Local doctor sees increase in pneumonia cases

Published 5:31 pm Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dr. Kim Mitchell-Silver, a physician with Riser Medical Associates, says the number of pneumonia cases she and her partners have diagnosed so far this year is higher than the average.

“I diagnosed four patients with pneumonia yesterday, and 12 cases in a span of two days last week… So far, we have diagnosed around two dozen patients with pneumonia since early January,” Mitchell-Silver said.

Mitchell-Silver says her clinic usually averages around 12 cases in the entire four month period of cold season, from January until April.

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“This time of year is perfect for pneumonia. It usually occurs when the weather is so unpredictable, and we see rapid weather changes. Rapid weather changes decrease the immune response and makes people more susceptible to illness and pneumonia,” Mitchell-Silver said.

Most of the cases she has seen so far this year have begun as sinus infections, Mitchell-Silver says. The bacterial infections begin in the sinus cavities and then travel to the throat and ears before settling in the lungs.

“We’re lucky in that this type of pneumonia responds well to treatment. We haven’t seen any return cases yet,” Mitchell-Silver said.

Mitchell-Silver says if an individual has a sinus infection and starts running a high fever, a trip to their regular physician is needed. Other indicators are congestion, severe headaches, ears that feel full or hurt, high fevers and a cough that is worse either early in the morning or late at night. However, a high fever is not the determining factor.

“We have seen cases that only indicated a low-grade fever. We’re actually looking for a combination of symptoms. We have had patients who complain of back pain or one-sided chest pain, which are both also signs of pneumonia… Other symptoms can be diarrhea and/or vomiting,” Mitchell-Silver said.

The problem is, says Mitchell-Silver, most of the pneumonia symptoms, such as diarrhea, vomiting, high fever and sinus congestion, are also flu symptoms. Only a qualified medical professional can tell the difference between pneumonia and flu.

Mitchell-Silver says some of the pneumonia cases she has seen have begun as the flu, because of the decreased immune response that occurs from having the flu. Also, she has seen pneumonia patients who have developed the flu, also because of the decrease immune response.

Mitchell-Silver says the health department does not keep track of pneumonia cases, because they are not seen as an epidemic type of disease. However, she and other local physicians try to keep an eye on what is happening medically in the local community.

“We do keep in touch and tell each other what we’re seeing in the community. That way, we can try to keep it more or less in control,” Mitchell-Silver said.

The best way to prevent pneumonia is by hand-washing, she says.

“Wash your hands with soap and water before touching food, drink, cups, utensils or anything above your shoulders… Most people don’t realize the number of germs we come in contact with our hands. For example, people can touch a buggy at Wal-Mart, and if the germs are on the buggy and then they touch their face, that’s how they get sick,” she said.