Hillary Clinton’s ill health: how serious is it?

    13 September 2016

    So, Hillary Clinton’s collapse at the 9/11 memorial service on Sunday was down to ‘walking pneumonia’ diagnosed two days earlier.

    Walking pneumonia, or atypical pneumonia in doctors’ parlance, suggests a chest infection most likely caused by one of three bacteria: Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae or Legionella pneumophila (Legionnaires’ disease).

    Despite the name, atypical pneumonia is relatively common, with Mycoplasma pneumoniae occurring in about 20 per cent of pneumonia infections acquired outside hospitals.

    A key feature of the condition is that it’s often rather insidious and veiled — indeed, the reason it is called walking pneumonia is that you are able to do things but have to drag yourself through them. Often it is not apparent you are fighting off a chest infection as the symptoms are not so bad.

    That is perhaps why Clinton decided to keep the diagnosis from most of her staff.

    She likely will have had to deal with a low-grade fever, a mild headache and a persistent dry cough.

    The main method of contraction would be through aerosolisation of the causative agent, ie coughing or sneezing from one infected human to another. Once established in its new host, the bacteria can secrete toxins which irritate the chest causing the persistent cough, in addition to inhibiting the normal mechanism of clearance of the lungs.

    Opponents of Clinton are quick to seize on her illness, thinking that it draws attention to her age, and therefore her fitness and suitability to become president.

    The truth is anyone over the age of 50 is likely to be susceptible to an atypical pneumonia. People with weak immune systems of any age are also known to be susceptible but, looking at Clinton’s recent months of activity, I doubt she is of weak constitution.

    Why did she collapse on Sunday? She may have diminished her reserve for fighting the illness to the point where her blood pressure dropped and she subsequently felt faint.

    The amount of oxygen she was able to exchange at the level of the lung may also have been reduced, again causing faintness. She could have become anaemic as a result of a protracted fight against an infection, or simply succumbed to the physical symptoms that the illness presented to her on a day of media scrutiny.

    It is likely that once her medical team had confirmed the causative agent as being ‘atypical’ she would have received a Macrolide antibiotic and supportive care of rehydration, rest and recuperation.

    Clinton should make a complete and uneventful recovery and be back to form in no time. It is a relatively common infection, easily dealt with, with a short recovery period if caught and treated in a timely fashion.

    Perhaps Clinton had a taste of her own medicine, and now knows how it is to feel ‘deplorable’ herself, if only for a short while.