Bacterial pneumonia: Why it put Jimmy Barnes in hospital

Jimmy Barnes was let down by his lungs. But they're coming good again.

Jimmy Barnes was let down by his lungs. But they're coming good again. Photo: Getty

Australian singer Jimmy Barnes has legendary, money-making lungs – widely loved – but a few weeks ago they turned nasty.

Barnes spent 36 hours on a drip in hospital, receiving antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia.

The illness meant he had to cancel his appearance as headliner for the Rock the Boat cruise festival and a recent setback knocked him out of the ‘By the C’ festival in Torquay.

Is he pushing it? Maybe

Only Barnes and his doctors will know if he’s ready to sing again in just a few days.

If so, he’s fortunate and somewhat atypical in recovering so quickly, especially for someone aged 67.

In the case of bacterial pneumonia – which can be more severe than other forms of pneumonia – most people respond to antibiotics in about five to seven days.

It’s then that they “may start to see a small improvement in symptoms”, according to an explainer at Medical News Today.

Symptoms such as chest pain, coughs, and shortness of breath, “may gradually improve in a few weeks’’.

Some people get off lightly, with a minor illness that responds well to rest. Being young helps.

It would appear that Barnes had the most common form of bacterial pneumonia, and one of the most severe – pneumococcal pneumonia.

People aged 65 and over are 10 times more likely to end up in hospital with pneumococcal pneumonia than adults aged 18-49.

Hard to breathe

Pneumonia is an infection that causes the air sacs of the lungs to fill up with fluid or pus. This makes it harder to breathe.

An explainer at Harvard Medical School says the most common symptoms are a “cough that may be dry or produce phlegm, fever, chills and fatigue”.

Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and pain in the chest and shortness of breath.

Jimmy Barnes plans not to be wheezing. Photo: Getty

Signs that indicate a more severe infection are “shortness of breath, confusion, decreased urination and lightheadedness”.

There are more than 30 different causes of pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, airborne irritants, and fungi, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

It’s thought that viral pneumonias make up half of all cases.

This is where lungs become infected with viruses such as the common cold influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, or SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In other words, with viral pneumonia, it’s a progression to the lungs of an infection that you’ve been dealing with.

As the Harvard explainer advises: “The lungs can be damaged by overwhelming COVID-19 viral infection, severe inflammation, and/or a secondary bacterial pneumonia. COVID-19 can lead to long-lasting lung damage.”

The good news? Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild.

How to get better?

Pneumonia is the sixth-leading cause of death in Australia, and is a major cause of hospital-acquired morbidity and mortality.

For viral pneumonias, there is no treatment apart from self-care. This means drinking plenty of liquids, taking paracetamol for fever, and resting.

This is also the case for mild cases of bacterial pneumonia. The infection, if mild, will go away on its own with plenty of self-care.

Otherwise, you’ll need a course of antibiotics, and more significant doses if you end up in hospital.

Remember: Antibiotics will not work against viral infections.

Take it seriously.

Pneumonia kills more children than any other infectious disease – 2000 children and babies die of it every day.

The risks

Your risk of getting bacterial pneumonia are greater, if you:

  • Are 65 or older
  • Have other conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease
  • Are recovering from surgery
  • Don’t eat healthily or get enough vitamins and minerals
  • Have another condition that weakens your body’s defences
  • Smoke
  • Drink too much alcohol
  • Have viral pneumonia
  • Have a weakened immune system.

There are some vaccines available that are effective against the most common form of bacterial pneumonia.

Topics: Health
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