Respiratory infections are common among elderly people, a medical expert said Tuesday, after the announcement that Nelson Mandela, 94, was being treated for a recurring lung infection.
“As one ages, one of the commonest problems of elderly people is chest infection,” said Mark Sonderup, a medical doctor and vice-chair of the South African Medical Association.
“It wouldn't be unusual,” he said, while adding that it must always be treated seriously.
In rare cases respiratory infections can be fatal and the chances of complications grow if the patient is elderly, has chronic respiratory ailments or suffers from diseases that weaken the immune system.
“Obviously he's got something that's more than just the simple cough and obviously you want to treat it properly, and apparently that's what's being done,” said Sonderup, who is not involved in Mandela's treatment.
“If the same patient was under my care I would do the exact same thing,” he said of the hospitalisation.
The Nobel Peace laureate spent 27 years in jail for opposing the apartheid government.
During his incarceration he worked in a limestone quarry for 13 years on Robben Island off the Cape Town coast, which may have affected his health in later life.
“Anybody exposed to prolonged periods of inorganic dust such as silica and stuff like that can get chronic lung diseases,” said Sonderup.
Mandela's last hospitalisation was in February, when he spent a night in hospital for a minor exploratory procedure to probe persistent abdominal pain.
In January 2011, Mandela had the country on edge when he was admitted for two nights for an acute respiratory infection. He was discharged in a stable condition for home-based care and intense medical monitoring.
Mandela has also had prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated in 2001. - Sapa-AFP