Pneumonia: A Common Lung Infection That Became Famous

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.


Hillary Rodham Clinton had a cough and after a few tweets it became the cough that was heard around the world. She continued her rigorous travel and campaign work and on Friday, Sept. 9, she was diagnosed with pneumonia. Normally, people would rest after a diagnosis of pneumonia but Clinton needed to be at the New York ceremony commemorating 15 years since the 9/11 terror attacks. Both Clinton and Donald Trump had promised to suspend campaign activities to mark the 15h anniversary of the attack.

I certainly understand that Clinton must have felt that she had to be present at this important event, especially since she had been so very involved at the time the World Trade Center was destroyed and thousands of civilians and first responders were killed or developed life-threatening illnesses from the work that was required at the site after the attack. While at the ceremony, she became visibly ill from standing, greeting people and becoming dehydrated, according to her personal physician. Shortly after she left the ceremony, she was evaluated and treated, and within two hours was once again out on the street communicating to the public through the media that she was articulate, walking normally and doing fine. She did cancel trips and public meetings for a few days, rest and take antibiotics then returned to the demanding schedule she has maintained since she declared her candidacy on April 12, 2015.

I thought that this would be a good time to review this now famous pulmonary infection as part of our Medical Monday series. Estimates of the incidence of community-acquired pneumonia range from 4 million to 5 million cases per year with about 25 percent requiring hospitalization. (American Thoracic Society. Guidelines for the initial management of adults with community-acquired pneumonia: Diagnosis, assessment of severity, and initial antimicrobial therapy. Am J Resp Crit Care Med. 2001, 163: 1730-1754) So, lots of people get pneumonia. 

Fortunately there are some ways to decrease the risk of contracting pneumonia:

— Get a flu shot every year to prevent seasonal influenza. The flu is a common cause of pneumonia, so preventing the flu is a good way to prevent pneumonia.

— Adults 65 and older should get vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia, a common form of bacterial pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended for all children and adults who are at increased risk of pneumococcal disease due to other health conditions. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine. Talk to your health care provider to find out if one of them is right for you.

— Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, and before eating or preparing foods.

— Don’t smoke. Tobacco damages your lungs’ ability to fight off infection, and smokers have been found to be at higher risk of getting pneumonia. Smokers are considered one of the high-risk groups that are encouraged to get the pneumococcal vaccine.

— Be aware of your general health. Since pneumonia often follows respiratory infections, be aware of any symptoms that linger more than a few days.

— Maintain good health habits. A healthy diet, rest, regular exercise, help you from getting sick from viruses and respiratory illnesses. They also help promote fast recovery when you do get a cold, the flu or other respiratory illness.

The health of the candidates running for the most important job in the world is important.

Both Clinton’s and Trump’s physical, psychological and cognitive health will be in full view tonight, as they participate in the first of the three presidential debates.

We have asked Dr. Brian Gelbman, who specializes in pulmonary medicine, to provide a thorough discussion of pneumonia.

Next week we will discuss disinhibition in people over 65. What is it? What does it mean?

Dr. Pat

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  • Andrea September 27, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Thanks Dr Pat. We must not overlook the signs of illness at its onset. Lots of discussion of pros and cons of flu shot…. I’m with her! Get the shot!!

  • Cecilia Ford September 26, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Many successful people have relied on their “grit” to get them through illness or other setbacks. Studies by educators are now finding that fortitude and conscientiousness are even more important to “future” achievement than intelligence. As we age, we sometimes forget that we are not as hardy as we once were and carry on as always.But the person who shows up, through thick and thin, and takes care of business can often get away with it and we all count on these people more than we realize. They have learned that “powering through” can be a way of dealing with illness and that not every ache and pain needs(immediate) attention.
    Yes, of course, Secretary Clinton, as a woman over 65 needs to be careful. But the flip side is the wisdom that comes with so many years experience, and makes up for the vulnerability that older people exhibit that can be managed well if they keep an eye on their health.