Oprah Shares Her “Very Serious” Battle with Pneumonia — Here’s How to Prevent the Infection

There’s no denying that Oprah Winfrey is a powerful and inspiring woman, but even the strongest people get sick. And in true Oprah form, she went public with her recent health scare in order to spread the word about the common — and potentially life-threatening — condition she had: pneumonia.

“I came back from overseas and I thought I had a cold, but it wasn’t a cold,” Oprah shared on Ellen Monday. “I ended up in the emergency room and they said, ‘You have pneumonia.”’

We hear about pneumonia often, but you might not know much about it. According to the Mayo Clinic, pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, where the air sacs become inflamed. 

“Pneumonia is nothing to play with, y’all,” Oprah said. “It is very serious.”

She’s right. Sometimes pneumonia is no biggie but it can also cause serious complications, including:

  • Bacteria in the bloodstream, which can spread the infection to other parts of the body.
  • Trouble breathing. Patients may need to be hospitalized and/or use a breathing machine.
  • Fluid in the lungs. If this gets infected, it needs to be drained or removed.
  • Lung abscess. This is basically pus in the lungs. (Ugh!)

Pneumonia has been known to lead to death as well.

Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of viruses, bacteria and fungi. In the U.S., it’s most commonly caused by the flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). It can also be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most common pneumonia symptoms are cough, fever and difficulty breathing. For Oprah, it was a rattling in her chest.

“I said, ‘I’ve got a little rattling,”’ she told Ellen DeGeneres. “[The lung specialist] puts a stethoscope here [on my chest], and I see the ‘oh sh*t’ face. It’s like, Oh my, something’s wrong with you. And I could see it, he didn’t hide it.”

“He immediately said, ‘You must cancel everything.’ I’ve never canceled anything in my life. I work when I’m sick.”

There are a few ways to lower your risk of developing pneumonia:

Wash your hands frequently.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer or 20-seconds of soap-and-water washing can banish germs that could lead to pneumonia.

Get yourself and your kids vaccinated.

The Hib, flu, measles, pertussis, varicella and pneumococcal vaccines can all help prevent illnesses that can lead to pneumonia.

Don’t smoke.

Smokers are at higher risk for pneumonia, since smoking damages the lungs’ ability to defend against infection.

Thankfully, Oprah has made a full recovery from her pneumonia, but she urges others to practice prevention. 

“Don’t play with it,” she said. “Get your flu shots and get your pneumonia shots, it’s nothing to play with. It takes people out.”

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