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Shania Twain Airlifted to Hospital With COVID-19 Pneumonia: Here Are the Signs

Twain’s condition quickly took a turn for the worse, requiring evacuation to a hospital.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Country music star Shania Twain contracted COVID-19 pneumonia at her home in Lake Geneva, Switzerland, at the height of the pandemic — and it got bad enough she required an airlift to a hospital.

"It was progressively getting worse. My vital signs were getting worse, … and in the end I had to be air evacuated," Twain, 57, told the U.K. tabloid The Mirror. "It was like science fiction, I felt like I was going to another planet or something," she says. "It all kind of happened in slow motion."

Her second husband, Frédéric "Fred" Thiébaud, had to call for the airlift, Twain said. "My husband was freaking out, to be honest," she said. "He was really panicking because he was the one having to pull it all together. He spent hours and hours every day on the phone, trying to get an air evacuation coordinated, trying to get a bed lined up, as there were none, checking my vital signs. It was just a real nightmare for him."

Twain eventually wound up in a hospital and was put into isolation and treated with plasma therapy, she said. "It took several days to start building up any antibodies at all, so it was a very dangerous time and very scary," she said. "I made it through, and I'm just so grateful."

The experience made it into Twain's music in a song, Inhale/Exhale Air. "It's a song of ­gratitude and appreciation," she said. "I was inspired that I still had air in my lungs."

COVID-19 pneumonia is a serious condition with symptoms that are similar to but different from other types of pneumonia. Here's what you need to look out for.


What Is COVID-19 Pneumonia?

"One of the common complications of COVID 19 infection is pneumonia," says Dr. Susan Wilcox, chief of the Division of Critical Care in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. "When we say pneumonia, we mean infection of the lungs, specifically infection of the small airways and the air sacs or the alveoli."

COVID-19 pneumonia is caused when a person's immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the lungs, causing the alveoli toi swell and leak fluid, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

COVID-19 pneumonia is just one type of the lung disease, which can also be caused by bacterial, fungal or viral infection or as a result of diseases such as influenza.

"The World Health Organization estimates that between 250,000 to 5 million people die of pneumonia from influenza annually," says Dr. Chen Yiming, a family physician in Singapore. "In fact, pneumonia accounts for about 15 percent of all deaths of children under 5 years old."

Risk factors for pneumonia include include being younger than 5 or older than 65;  chronic lung conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease; heart disease; or a weakened immune system, as in HIV patients or people who are on chemotherapy or are post-organ transplant, Yiming says.


Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19 Pneumonia

The symptoms of COVID pneumonia can resemble those of an initial COVID-19 infection, the Cleveland Clinic says.

Those include shortness of breath, trouble breathing, confusion, extreme fatigue or tiredness, cough, fever, chest pain or tightness or bluish lips, skin or nails, the clinic says.

"Symptoms of pneumonia may vary from individual to individual," Yiming says. "They include cough, phlegm production, shortness of breath, fever with chills, chest pain. In severe cases or in elderly patients, even confusion and drowsiness."

Less common symptoms include sore throat, headache, aches and pains, diarrhea, a rash on skin or discolouration of fingers or toes, or red or irritated eyes, according to the World Health Organization.


Differences From Other Pneumonias

Doctor and covid-19 infected patient in bed in hospital.

You can't tell the difference between COVID-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses by symptoms alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Some PCR tests can differentiate between flu and COVID-19 at the same time.

Both COVID-19 and flu take a few days from infection to symptoms. It is also possible not to have symptoms if you are infected with either virus.

But a person with COVID-19 may take longer to show symptoms than a person with the flu. COVID-19 also spreads more easily than the flu, the CDC says. COVID-19 can also cause more serious illness than the flu.

Guang-Hong Chen, professor of medical physics and radiology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, is developing an algorithm to tell the difference between COVID-19-related pneumonia and other pneumonias, he says. 

"And we think that will help our expert thoracic radiologists, at least provide them a second opinion to better … differentiate the COVID-related pneumonia from the other type of pneumonia," he says.


What to Do

Close-up of covid-19 infected patient in bed in hospital, coronavirus and ventilation.

To prevent COVID-19 pneumonia, stay up to date on your vaccinations. If you qualify for additional boosters, you should get those as soon as you can as well.

If you believe you have contracted COVID-19, get tested at your doctor's office or at a pharmacy and follow your doctor's instructions.

"Pneumonia from COVID-19 in and of itself does not mandate medical care; however, patients with COVID-19 pneumonia can develop respiratory failure and may need to be hospitalized," Wilcox says.

"If you start to have significant shortness of breath — meaning that you're having difficulty getting about your house, going to the bathroom, taking care of yourself — this is a reason to go to the hospital and be evaluated for COVID-19 pneumonia," she adds.


When to Call 911

The biggest indicator that a COVID-19 infection has worsened is having trouble breathing, the Cleveland Clinic says. "If you have shortness of breath, and it's getting worse, or if you feel like you can't get air, go to the nearest ER," the clinic says.

"It's important to go to the ER if you have symptoms of COVID pneumonia, as it can get worse quickly," the clinic adds. Just ask Shania Twain.