People are often confused about whether they are suffering from flu or pneumonia, given that both share a few common symptoms. But these are two different diseases with differences in causes and treatment.


Before we discuss the vaccines for pneumonia and flu, let us have a quick look at these two health issues, their symptoms and distinguishing factors.

In a nutshell

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a chest infection or lung inflammation that can result from infectious and non-infectious causes. Pneumonia can also escalate to a severe fatal condition. Treatment for pneumonia includes antibiotics and antivirals. Vaccination helps prevent the infection.


What is influenza (flu)?

Influenza is a viral infection caused by various strains of the influenza virus. Regular vaccination helps fight the flu.


Symptoms of flu and pneumonia and the distinguishing factors

Many confuse the start of a pneumonia infection with the flu since both infections have several common symptoms, such as fever, cough, a general feeling of being unwell, chills, and sweats. Both conditions can take a severe turn and become life threatening as well. However, flu starts with chills, fever, sore throat, sweats, weakness, headache, and pain in the joints and muscles, whereas pneumonia symptoms primarily include sputum or mucus production that may be yellow or green in color and bloody, along with chest pain, difficulty in breathing, rapid pulse, and rapid breathing.


Distinguishing factors

  • Sputum, especially green or yellow colored, is produced when suffering from pneumonia, whereas there is usually no mucus produced in flu, and if present it is clear or white.
  • Also, chest pain is not observed in influenza, but is a common symptom of pneumonia.
  • Flu typically lasts for a few days and the person can recover on his or her own or with a mild antibiotic, whereas to recover from pneumonia, treatment is required.


A note: It is worth mentioning that flu can increase the risk of a pneumonia infection, as the immune system is weak owing to the flu virus, making the body susceptible to pneumonia caused by a bacterial attack.


Vaccination for pneumonia and flu

Two types of pneumonia vaccinations are available against only Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria—these are called Pneumovax (or PPSV23) and PCV13 (or Prevnar). Those above 65 must take the PCV13 vaccine followed by PPSV23 after a year, and if they have taken PPSV23, then PCV13 must be taken after a year’s gap. High-risk populations must take these vaccines too. Vaccines, such as measles, pertussis, varicella, pneumococcus, influenza, and haemophilus influenzae type b, also help prevent pneumonia by blocking some of the viruses or bacteria that cause pneumonia.


Influenza vaccination or the flu shot, on the other hand, is recommended yearly for everyone over 6 months of age, especially the high-risk category of the population. Interestingly, the flu shot is found to prevent pneumonia too. This is because the flu virus can cause viral and bacterial pneumonia. Both vaccines have negligible side effects.



The flu shot must be taken by all individuals on a yearly basis, and it can also double as protection against pneumonia. However, individuals at high risk of contracting pneumonia must also take pneumonia vaccinations in consultation with their physicians.


Since 2001, Dr. Alexander G. Salerno has led Salerno Medical Associates in East Orange, New Jersey. Dr. Alexander Salerno focuses largely on urban communities and on delivering patient education about both medical and behavioral health issues.