Tributes to the victims of the 9/11 tragedy were almost upstaged Sunday by reports that Hillary Clinton had nearly fainted at the National September 11 Memorial in New York City. Speculation about the Democratic presidential candidate’s health lit up the Internet, and soon after, the campaign released a statement from her doctor: Clinton had been diagnosed with pneumonia.
“Secretary Clinton has been experiencing a cough related to allergies,” Lisa R. Bardack, MD, said in the statement. “On Friday, during follow-up evaluation of her prolonged cough, she was diagnosed with pneumonia. She was put on antibiotics, and advised to rest and modify her schedule. While at the event, she became overheated and dehydrated.”
Though Clinton’s doctor did not specify what kind of pneumonia the candidate is stricken with, there are two different types of pneumonia. The sickness can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, confirms Darria Long Gillespi, MD, ER doctor and Sharecare’s SVP of clinical strategy. Gillespi has not treated Clinton, but she tells Yahoo Beauty what a pneumonia diagnosis could mean for the 68-year-old candidate’s health and whether it can be contagious.
“Often, a person will first have a viral infection, which will cause inflammation and a fluid buildup in the lungs. In most, those infections will get better on their own, but in some people those infections can make their lungs more susceptible to more serious infection, such as secondary bacterial infection, leading to pneumonia,” says Gillespi in regard to the contagion factor of bacterial infections. “In the same way, if someone were to have allergies severe enough to cause inflammation in their lungs, that could make them more susceptible to catching a bacterial pneumonia on top of the allergies.”
As Clinton’s doctor suggested, the politician’s case of pneumonia seems to have stemmed from her allergies, indicating that her illness might be bacterial. Earlier today, it came to light that several other members of Clinton’s campaign team in Brooklyn have come down with cases of pneumonia as well, pointing to a strong likelihood that her particular case is contagious. “Everyone’s been sick,” a campaign source said.
“At least half a dozen senior staff were felled, including campaign manager Robby Mook,” according to the source. “Two top advisers even needed emergency medical treatment,” the source explained. “One top adviser diagnosed at a Brooklyn urgent-care center with a respiratory infection was being treated with antibiotics in the days before Clinton’s diagnosis. Another top adviser was taken by ambulance to the ER after collapsing from what turned out to be severe dehydration.”
The American Lung Association states that there are 30 different causes of pneumonia and confirms that “if you have viral pneumonia, you also are at risk of getting bacterial pneumonia.” The website elaborates on the differences between the two kinds of pneumonia, stating that “many different germs can cause pneumonia,” saying that in addition to bacteria and viruses, pneumonia can be brought on by mycoplasma as well as other infectious agents, such as fungi — including pneumocystis — and various chemicals.
“Dozens of different types of bacteria can cause pneumonia,” the site states, adding that “people at greatest risk for bacterial pneumonia include people recovering from surgery, people with respiratory diseases or viral infections and people who have weakened immune systems.”
Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, Gillespi tells Yahoo Style. “If someone is very ill, they’ll typically require IV antibiotics, but otherwise people with less severe cases — such as what’s often called walking pneumonia — can be treated with oral antibiotics. Typically, the duration of antibiotics ranges from five to 14 days, depending on the severity of the illness.”
Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, includes initial symptoms that are similar to that of influenza (the flu): fever, a dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness. “Most respiratory viruses attack the upper respiratory tract, but some cause pneumonia, especially in children,” the website states. “Most of these pneumonias are not serious and last a short time, but others can be severe. Viral pneumonia caused by the influenza virus may be severe and sometimes fatal.”
Typical symptoms of pneumonia (PNA) include cough, fever, shortness of breath, and chills, says Gillespi. “If someone gets sicker, they can develop a more rapid heartbeat or even low oxygen levels,” she tells us, adding that fainting spells, like the one Clinton almost had at the 9/11 memorial event, are not typical of pneumonia cases.
“Fainting — or syncope, as is the medical term — isn’t really a cardinal symptom of pneumonia, but it can be a reflection of anything that causes you to be ill or dehydrated,” says Gillespi. “Syncope can happen when there’s a problem with your heart, a blockage in your blood vessels, or just because you’re not getting enough blood flow to your brain due to dehydration or overheating.”
She adds, “It’s impossible to say what was the cause of Secretary Clinton’s syncope exactly without being her treating doctor, but excessive dehydration due to being ill, coupled with overheating, could lead someone to fainting for a very short period.”
Clinton’s doctor has stated that the candidate is recovering nicely, but the latest word from her campaign is that she has canceled plans to visit California on Monday and Tuesday so that she can rest and recover at her home in Chappaqua, N.Y.