Ask Dr. Nandi: Why Whoopi Goldberg nearly died from pneumonia

Netflix's "Quincy" New York Special Screening
Posted at 2:40 PM, Mar 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-13 17:39:24-04

(WXYZ) — Whoopi Goldberg nearly died from very serious complications of pneumonia. And while she continues to heal, let’s take a closer look at what nearly killed her.

Question: How does someone develop pneumonia?

Pneumonia is very serious. It’s the 8thleading cause of death and responsible for over 960,000 hospitalizations here in the US each year. Now you can get pneumonia from many germs like bacteria, fungi and viruses. However, bacteria and viruses are the most common and can be found in the air around us. They can be spread through touching, coughing, sneezing, even breathing. Now when you develop this infection of the lung, it causes the air sacs to become inflamed. They’ll fill up with either pus or fluid which then causes coughing, fever, chills and problems breathing.

Question: Whoopi said she was septic, can you tell us what that means?

Sepsis can be life-threatening just like pneumonia. It’s triggered by an infection in the body. And what happens is that your immune system that fights off germs goes into overdrive. It releases a large number of chemicals to fight the infection, but this causes widespread inflammation. The immune system ends up confused, stop fighting the invaders, and send signals down the wrong pathway. And then you can end up with dangerously low blood pressure, tissue damage, organ failure, even death.

Question: How can one prevent these serious illnesses?

If you’re 65 years of age or older, you should get the pneumonia vaccination. You can also get this vaccine if you have a compromised immune system, you’re a smoker, or have a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes. I also recommend that you get the flu vaccine every year. It will help to reduce your risk of developing pneumonia. Other prevention methods include quitting smoking as it damages your lungs, wash your hands often with soap and water, avoid sick people and lead a healthy lifestyle. That includes eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep.