Funnyman Leslie Nielsen has died.

Actor Leslie Nielsen has died. The 84 year old star of  iconic comedic roles in films such as Airplane! and Naked Gun died in a hospital near his home in Fort Lauderdale, FL from pneumonia. His agent told People magazine that Nielsen had been hospitalized for the past two weeks with pneumonia, but that he had taken a turn for the worse over the past two days.

Two of Leslie Nielsen’s most famous movie lines:

Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.

Elaine Dickinson: A hospital? What is it?
Rumack: It’s a big building with patients, but that’s not important right now.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. Many small germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia.The infection causes your lungs’ air sacs, called alveoli, to become inflamed. The air sacs may fill up with fluid or pus, causing symptoms such as a cough (with phlegm), fever, chills, and trouble breathing. Pneumonia can be a complication of upper respiratory infections, such as colds or flu, because the mucus in the airways is an excellent growth medium for germs.

 

Source: NHLBI

 

Doctors listening to the chest with a stethoscope may hear a bubbling or crackling sound (called rales) or a harsh rumblings (called rhonchi)

if pneumonia is present. Confirmation of the disease is made with an x-ray, which will show an area of increased “whiteness” in the infected area (normal lung tissue is mostly black on x-ray).

Symptoms of pneumonia can be mild to severe. Treatment is dependent on the organism causing the pneumonia- viruses can be treated symptomatically or with anti-viral medications, bacteria with antibiotics specific to the organism present. Pneumonia tends to be more serious for:

  • Infants and young children.
  • Older adults (people 65 years or older).
  • People who have other health problems like heart failure, diabetes, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
  • People who have weak immune systems as a result of diseases or other factors. These may include HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy (a treatment for cancer), or an organ or bone marrow transplant.

Pneumonia and the Elderly:

Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death and the fourth overall cause of mortality in the elderly. There are several reasons for this:

  • The elderly often have other coexisting illnesses, such as heart disease or diabetes.
  • The ability of the mucous membranes that line the respiratory system to move mucus out of lungs decreases with age. This is called mucociliary clearance and is explained in more detail below.
  • The immune system also becomes less efficient over time, leaving the elderly more susceptible to certain infections.

What is mucociliary clearance?
The main bronchi down to the alveoli are lined with a respiratory epithelium. On that, cilium is present, bearing hair-shaped structures on its surface (cilia). The cilia are surrounded by a thin fluid film of mucus. On top of that is a second viscous film of mucus, in which foreign particles and microorganisms get stuck. Within the thin fluid film of mucus the cilia act out movements coordinated in direction towards the pharynx. Thereby the viscous film of mucus including its freight is transported off in direction towards the mouth, where it is either swallowed or expelled via coughing.

For more information about pneumonia, click here to go to the Resounding Health Casebook on the topic.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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