It’s shocking when pneumonia strikes down someone relatively young like Robert Garcia, Garces Memorial High School’s principal, but local physicians say the condition is a common problem, brought on by several different causes.
“Pneumonia can happen to anybody,” said Dr. Mushtaq Ahmed, a physician with San Joaquin Pulmonary Medical Group. “And if you delay treatment, it can take your life.”
Garcia died Saturday at age 57 after battling the lung inflammation for at least 20 days in the hospital.
“He thought he really had the flu. It was going around the school,” said Monsignor Michael Braun, rector of the high school. “He just couldn’t get rid of it.”
Braun heard that Garcia succumbed to viral pneumonia, which is one of several types.
• Respiratory viruses cause up to one-third of the pneumonia in the United States, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute report. The flu virus is the most common cause of viral pneumonia in adults.
• Bacteria are the most common cause of pneumonia in adults. Dozens of bacteria can cause pneumonia, but the most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae.
• Fungus, like Kern County’s valley fever, also causes pneumonia.
“Valley fever pneumonia can progress very, very rapidly,” said Dr. Navin Amin, chairman of family practice and pediatrics at Kern Medical Center.
All cases of pneumonia in Kern County should be checked for valley fever, said local valley fever expert Dr. Tom Larwood. And sometimes it takes more than one test to determine if it’s valley fever.
The extent of the inflammation also can depend on the strength of the immune system, Ahmed said.
Infants under 2 years old and people over 65 are the most at risk, the institute says. People with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, heart failure, sickle cell anemia and a lung disease, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as smokers and people who are hospitalized are also at heightened risk.
Ahmed recommends that those at risk get a flu shot every year and a pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, every six years.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a drug-resistant bacteria, can cause problems in children, even if they were healthy, Amin said.
“If MRSA gets into the lungs, it can go very rapidly,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see those lung infections often.
Pneumonia symptoms can vary but often include fever, shortness of breath, chest pain and cough with yellow, green or blood-tinged sputum, Amin said. Complications include bloodstream infection, lung abscesses and fluid to build up between the lungs and chest wall.
“If somebody has these cardinal symptoms, they should not just put it off,” Amin said. “Let somebody see them.”