The revelation that Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia has everyone frantically checking WebMD to figure out how serious it is. Should she have been working? Why didn't her campaign announce it sooner? The Clinton health conspiracy theorists are already asking these questions and patting themselves on the back while her supporters point out her work schedule on Friday proved her stamina. But others just want to understand what she has been diagnosed with. Pneumonia is a condition that can be caused by a lot of things, so it might make sense to start with the different types of pneumonia.
Pneumonia can be caused by several different things, but the most common types are bacterial or viral (the far less frequent are caused by fungus or parasites). According to WebMD, you usually develop pneumonia after breathing an infected air particle into your lungs. But what happens next is all the same, as no matter the type, pneumonia is a respiratory infection. Once in the lungs, the particle causes inflammation in the air sacs; they then fill with liquid or mucus, making it hard to breathe — and then it can be mild or severe, depending on the cause.
Ironically, this is actually the body's attempt to prevent the spread of the initial infection, as Christian Merlo, a pulmonary disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained to The Verge. "When there's an infection, the body's reaction is to send the immune system in to attack it," he explained. The mucus is supposed to isolate the infection, but in doing so it blocks the airways — a bad move since the body needs oxygen to function.
Bacterial pneumonia is usually more severe to start with, but it also responds to antibiotics, so it's easier to treat, according to WebMD. Clinton's doctor, Dr. Lisa Bardack, said Monday in a statement that she prescribed antibiotics. That would imply bacterial pneumonia, but that's not necessarily the case. Often it's impossible to know what kind you have — even with advanced testing. Thus the typical trick is to see if the pneumonia improves with antibiotics. If so, it's bacterial.
Clinton on CNN explained that she's since feeling much better. She told Anderson Cooper that the reason for her health problems over the weekend was simple: she ignored her doctor. "I was supposed to rest five days — that's what they told me on Friday — and I didn't follow that very wise advice," Clinton said. She also explained why the campaign didn't release anything about her diagnosis sooner: "I just didn't think it was going to be that big of deal."
This has all been a big deal over the past few days, and maybe even bigger than it should've been. One tweet showed just how seriously some Americans are taking the pneumonia diagnosis. Hayes Brown, a world news editor at BuzzFeed News, sent out a screenshot from It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, adding, "People trying to track the strain of pneumonia that Clinton has like..." In the picture, Charlie has gone crazy pinning up letters to a bulletin board and has connected all the dots of a conspiracy with string, like detectives would in a confusing murder case.
Well, that's exactly how bad people want to know about Clinton's pneumonia. Even if there's never a clear answer on what caused her pneumonia, Clinton will release more health records this week. Meanwhile taking time to rest will make all the difference.