What WAS That Disease That Threatened Sarah Silverman's Life Last Week?

Photo: Getty Images.
Comedian and actress Sarah Silverman just revealed that she's "lucky to be alive" after suffering from a severe case of epiglottitis.

“I was in the ICU all of last week,” she wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “Don't even know why I went to the doctor, it was just a sore throat. But I had a freak case of epiglottitis.”

The condition, it turns out, is a life-threatening emergency.

What is epiglottitis?
It's a disease that occurs when the epiglottis becomes inflamed. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that sits at the back of your throat and closes over your windpipe when you're eating, so that food doesn't get into your airways. When the epiglottis is inflamed, it can swell and block the airways, making it hard for you to breathe.

What causes it?
A swollen epiglottis is usually caused by the bacteria Haemophilus influenzae (H. influenzae), the same bacteria that causes other severe illnesses such as meningitis and pneumonia. Haemophilus influenza is spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing. Epiglottitis is pretty uncommon in adults, however, because most people get the H. influenzae type B (Hib) vaccine in early childhood. Since the vaccine became routine in 1990, the number of cases of Hib have decreased by 99% compared with the pre-vaccine era. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have a number for the overall cases of Hib infection, it's estimated that there is one case per 100,000 children younger than 5 years of age in the U.S. every year.
What are the symptoms?
The National Health Service says that, in addition to the sore throat that Silverman had, other symptoms of epiglottitis include difficulty or pain when swallowing, difficulty breathing, abnormal or high-pitched breathing sounds, a high fever, irritability and restlessness, a muffled or hoarse voice, and drooling. For adults and older children, sore throat, swallowing difficulties, and drooling are more common, while breathing difficulties occur more often in younger children.
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How is it treated?
If you think you might have epiglottitis, get to the hospital immediately. The condition can be life-threatening, but if caught and treated right away, it doesn't have to be. In most cases, however, you'll be required to stay in the intensive care unit as doctors secure your airways and deliver oxygen through a breathing tube. Once you're able to breathe unrestricted, doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, or administer anti-inflammatory medicine to decrease throat swelling.

How long does it take to recover?
With proper treatment, people will usually be able to leave the hospital after about five to seven days.
Since the Hib vaccine is routine in childhood vaccinations, most of us are protected against epiglottitis. However, the bacteria is contagious, so if a family member or someone you know has been sick with H. influenzae, it's best to get tested for it right away to prevent future illness.
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