Knowing the difference can be crucial. For some people, including the elderly and those weakened by other diseases, pneumonia can be life-threatening.
"People with colds or flu, which are caused by viruses, generally recover without treatment in a week or two," says Alan Tice, M.D., an infectious disease specialist in Tacoma, Wash., and clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. "But pneumonia is usually a bacterial infection, which needs to be treated promptly with antibiotics."
In some cases, pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics. But someone who is seriously ill may need intravenous (IV) antibiotics, which deliver a higher concentration of medication into the bloodstream. Fortunately, IV antibiotic therapy doesn't always require a stay in the hospital. The IV antibiotic most often used to treat pneumonia in the doctor's office or at home is Rocephin® (sterile ceftriaxone sodium), because it is administered only once a day. "With outpatient treatment, patients can now lose less time from work or school," Dr. Tice points out.
Many people who start out with a viral infection later develop pneumonia. Therefore, it's important to be on the lookout for symptoms that seem to hang on and worsen. How do you tell the difference between an ordinary bout of flu and a case of pneumonia? The following are some of the hallmarks of each illness: