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Doctor showing chest x-ray to patient

Although some of the symptoms may be similar, the flu is much more than just a really bad cold. It is almost impossible to simply “power through” the extreme weakness, fatigue, fever, and body aches associated with the flu as you would with a cold. For most people, the flu will run its course within a few days with plenty of rest and fluids. In some instances, however, flu leads to pneumonia, which can be life threatening. The following are answers to common questions regarding the connection between the flu and pneumonia.

How can the flu lead to pneumonia?

Flu and pneumonia are both respiratory infections. In some cases, the influenza virus overwhelms the immune system and the individual develops influenza pneumonia or they can develop pneumonia from a secondary bacterial infection where the lungs are inflamed making them more susceptible to bacterial invasion.

When can the flu lead to pneumonia?

Anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 Americans die from the flu every year. In fact, more people die from the flu each year than from chronic kidney or liver failure. In most cases, the deaths are due to complications from influenza pneumonia. This is most likely to occur in the very young, the elderly, smokers, and individuals with chronic health conditions, including lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes, since their immune systems are already compromised and less able to fight off infections.

Can the flu lead to pneumonia in otherwise healthy adults?

Even extremely active and healthy adults can develop influenza pneumonia very quickly after catching the flu.

What are the symptoms of flu pneumonia?

When the flu leads to pneumonia, the individual typically will experience symptoms beyond those normally associated with the flu, including:

  • Shaking chills
  • A productive cough
  • Shortness of breath with mild exertion
  • Excessive sweating
  • Clammy skin
  • Chest tightness or stabbing or sharp chest pain when coughing or taking a deep breath
  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • High fever
  • Blue lips and nailbeds

Even in otherwise healthy individuals, the pneumonia symptoms can develop and escalate to the point of being life-threatening in as few as 12 to 36 hours. If untreated, pneumonia can lead to respiratory failure or even sepsis – widespread infection throughout the body – resulting in tissue damage or organ failure.

How can I prevent flu-related pneumonia?

The best way to prevent the flu and related complications, including pneumonia, is to get the annual flu vaccine. While the optimal time for the vaccine is late summer or early fall so that the antibodies have time to develop before peak flu season, it is still not too late. Even though the flu vaccine is never 100 percent effective in preventing the flu, it is still the best protection available. If you do get the flu even though you were vaccinated, your symptoms will likely be less severe. Washing your hands thoroughly and frequently, especially after you have been out in public or around someone who is ill, will also reduce your chances of catching the flu.

What can I do if flu leads to pneumonia?

If you develop any of the pneumonia symptoms listed above, you should seek immediate medical attention, especially if you have a chronic health condition or other risk factors for pneumonia. A doctor can determine if you have pneumonia through a physical exam, X-rays, and other diagnostic tests and prescribe the appropriate treatments. In severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary to administer fluids, oxygen therapy, and breathing treatments.

How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

When treated promptly, younger, healthy people can recover from pneumonia within a week or two. Middle-aged and older adults may take several weeks before they start to regain their strength.

Protect Your Family with a Flu Shot from FastMed

If you had a flu shot last year, your body still has the antibodies created by the vaccine. Unfortunately, the Influenza virus is constantly mutating, which means that the antibodies no longer recognize the virus in order to fight it off. That is why it is important to get the flu vaccine every year. FastMed Urgent Care clinics offer low-cost flu vaccines seven days a week. We want to make flu prevention as affordable as possible, which is why we offer cost-effective vaccines. We have more than 100 convenient walk-in locations throughout Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina, so getting your flu shot couldn’t be easier.

About FastMed

FastMed Urgent Care owns and operates nearly 200 centers in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas that provide a broad range of acute/episodic and preventive healthcare services 365 days a year. FastMed also provides workers’ compensation and other occupational health services at all its centers, and family and sports medicine services at select locations. FastMed has successfully treated more than six million patients and is the only independent urgent care operator in North Carolina, Arizona and Texas to be awarded The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for quality, safety and infection control in ambulatory healthcare. For more information about locations, services, hours of operation, insurance and prices, visit

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