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A story about pneumonia

Did you know that experts predict that pneumonia will kill nearly 11 million children under five by 2030? But it’s not just children who are affected, one of our colleagues was infected as well. In this article, we take a look at pneumonia, share our colleague’s experience with the infection, and the condition’s link with health insurance.

What exactly is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a term used to describe an acute infection of the lungs, most commonly caused by either a virus, bacteria, fungi, or aspiration of material into the lungs. This infection results in the alveoli (sacks in our lungs that allow the transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide into and out of the lungs) filling with fluid, which in turn makes it hard for us to breathe.

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Because there are a number of different causes of pneumonia, doctors will typically try to differentiate the infection into a number of different types, which will then dictate treatment. The most common types of pneumonia include:

  • Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) – This term is used to describe pneumonia caught in public spaces i.e., not the hospital or care center. An infection developed during a cold or flu is also usually labeled as community-acquired pneumonia.  
  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia – Pneumonia contracted while you are in the hospital. The vast majority of cases of hospital-acquired pneumonia develop while you are in the hospital for another health issue e.g., surgery or long-term care. Learn more about inpatient care here.
  • Viral pneumonia – Pneumonia caused by a viral infection that can be contracted either at the hospital or in the community. One of the most common causes of viral pneumonia is the respiratory syncytial virus. Like other viral infections, antibiotics won’t usually help patients recover.
  • Bacterial pneumonia – Like viral pneumonia, this can be contracted both in the community and in healthcare centers, but this type of pneumonia is caused by bacteria. According to Everyday Health, “60 percent of all CAP cases are caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia, also known as pneumococcal pneumonia.”  
  • Fungal pneumonia – A type of pneumonia caused by a fungal infection or the inhalation of fungi, and is most commonly seen in patients with other underlying health issues such as those with an immunocompromised/immunosuppressed system.  
  • Aspirated pneumonia – Pneumonia that is caused by inhaling a foreign object into the lungs such as food, liquid, or even gastric material such as stomach acid. This is commonly treated like viral pneumonia, with antibiotics.    
  • Walking pneumonia – Also commonly referred to as atypical pneumonia, this is essentially any form of pneumonia that doctors deem not serious enough for hospitalization. In other words, it is a milder form of pneumonia.  

What are the common symptoms?

There are actually two common sets of symptoms with most types of pneumonia: bacterial pneumonia and non-bacterial pneumonia. Should you develop the symptoms below, it is advisable to consult with a doctor or go to the hospital if they are serious enough. Doctors will usually do a blood test and an x-ray to see if there is fluid in your lungs. Tests will then be run to confirm what type of pneumonia you have. From there you may be admitted to the hospital or given antibiotics.  

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia

While these symptoms may be different for each patient, most people will notice:

  • A productive cough with phlegm that is green or rusty in color. There may also be blood in the phlegm.
  • Fever.
  • Strong chills that lead to teeth chattering.
  • Shortness of breath with fast shallow breaths.
  • Pain in their chest, especially whey they breathe in.
  • Feeling tired and drained of energy.
  • Nausea.
  • Night sweats or excessive sweating at night.  

For many people who contract bacterial pneumonia, the symptoms will usually come on seemingly all at once and will commonly start during or just after a cold, flu, or upper respiratory tract infection.

Symptoms of nonbacterial pneumonia

For most cases, the symptoms of nonbacterial pneumonia will actually feel quite similar to a cold or flu and will commonly include:

  • Light fever.
  • Dry cough with little to no phlegm.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle pain or weakness.

The main difference here is that, while cold and flu symptoms will tend to lessen after a couple of days, these symptoms stay or even get worse as time goes on. For example, you may find it harder and harder to breathe, your cough gets worse, and fever increases. Other times, you may not even know you’ve had pneumonia, this is what doctors refer to as walking pneumonia.

Is pneumonia contagious?

No, and Yes. The vast majority of common pneumonia is not actually contagious. If someone you know is diagnosed with it, it does not mean that you too will catch it. Instead, it is the viruses or bacterias that cause pneumonia are contagious. If you are exposed to the virus or bacteria, then you could get sick and could see pneumonia develop if your body can’t fight the illness.

Our colleague’s experience with pneumonia

When discussing this article and the situation that sparked the idea to cover it, we found that one of our colleagues on the marketing team actually had an interesting bout of pneumonia a few years ago. Here is his story:

“In April 2012, a few months after I had moved to Bangkok from Hong Kong for a new job. I had settled into Bangkok nicely and was enjoying the city, but had to return to Hong Kong for a visa run. About a week before my trip back to Hong Kong I caught a pretty nasty cold and spent a few days in bed recovering. It was one day before my flight and I felt better, so I decided not to postpone my trip. This, I believe, turned out to be a major mistake!

On my flight to Hong Kong, I was sat beside a guy who sounded like he had a miserable cold. A nasty, near constant cough, the continuous blowing of his nose, etc. More than once he sneezed without covering his mouth and I am fairly certain I was exposed to his germs. That night I felt ok and went out to catch up with old friends from Hong Kong. By the end of the night, however, I was feeling like another cold was coming on and decided to get some extra sleep.

Throughout the weekend, the symptoms digressed and I really felt like the cold was in my chest. By Sunday night I remember feeling extremely tired, it was hard to breathe, I felt nauseous, and I certainly had a fever. I took some Panadol cold medication to try and break the fever and went to bed at 6:00 pm, thinking a good night’s sleep would do the trick, as I had to fly back to Bangkok the next day.  

I vividly remember waking up at around midnight with the sheets soaking wet from head to toe. I thought to myself that this was great, the fever had broken and I was just ‘sweating it out’ as I changed the sheets and went back to sleep. The next morning, Monday, I woke up feeling worse but decided that I felt well enough to fly back to Bangkok where I could take a few days off at home and rest.  

That flight back to Bangkok was one of the worst flights I have ever taken. My breathing had somehow gotten worse with a dull pain whenever I took a breath and my fever was back. By the time I got back to my condo in Bangkok I was exhausted and was now coughing up phlegm, but I decided to just go to bed instead of going to the hospital.

The next morning, I woke up and coughed up some phlegm. As I spit it out into the sink, I noticed that there was blood in the phlegm. My exact thought being “Hmm, that shouldn’t be there. I think I should go to the hospital.” My next thought was “Which hospital do I go to? I can’t speak Thai.”  

Luckily, my uncle also lived in Bangkok at the time, so I called him and he instructed me to go to Samitivej Hospital, one of the international hospitals in the city. I checked into the hospital, filled out the paperwork and sat down where they told me to. A few minutes later a nurse came along and asked me to explain my symptoms, which I did:

  • Fever
  • Night sweats
  • Phlegm with blood
  • Chest pain when I breathe in
  • Extremely weak and tired.

She got a very, very worried look on her face and immediately called a wheelchair over. I was taken right into the doctor’s office at the pulmonary ward and given a chest x-ray along with a blood test. Reviewing the x-ray, the doctor told me that I had a fever of just under 38 degrees along with a worrying amount of fluid in my lower right lung (in other words pneumonia). I was subsequently admitted to the hospital for three nights and then told to take three weeks off of work to recover. I was also diagnosed with asthma, which I still have to take an inhaler daily to keep under control.

Now, you are probably asking “Why didn’t I go see the doctor in Hong Kong? Why did I wait so long to see a doctor in Bangkok?” Well, the answer to that is that I did not actually have health insurance. Through a slip-up at my new company, my company-sponsored health insurance application was not actually submitted when it should have been, which meant I had not received coverage before I got sick.

At the time, I was not making a lot of money and knew I couldn’t afford a hospital visit, even in Thailand. Because of this, I ended up having to borrow money from my uncle to cover the costs of care, which came to THB 55,000 (almost double my monthly salary at the time). To make matters worse, when my insurance application was accepted (after I recovered) the insurer denied coverage of asthma due to the fact that it was a pre-existing condition. All of this could have been avoided if I had health insurance.

Yes, it was from this experience I learned a valuable lesson the hard way: If you are going to move countries, ensure that you have health insurance in place before you move. The cost of securing an international health insurance plan may seem like a steep investment, but it pales in comparison with potential medical bills. I wish I had known of Pacific Prime before I left Hong Kong!”

If you would like to learn more about your individual health insurance options before you move countries or even jobs, contact Pacific Prime today.  Alternatively, learn more about keeping your lungs healthy here.

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Content Strategist at Pacific Prime
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.