What Is Viral Pneumonia
Viruses are responsible for about one-third of all pneumonias, and they’re the most common cause of pneumonia in children younger than age 5.
Viral pneumonias tend to clear up in about one to three weeks, but they can increase your risk for bacterial pneumonia.
Viral pneumonia is usually less serious than bacterial pneumonia.
At first, the symptoms of viral pneumonia may be similar to symptoms often associated with the flu, except you may experience a dry cough that does not produce phlegm. You may also develop a fever and headache.
But within a couple of days, these symptoms typically get worse.
Adults with viral pneumonia can also expect to develop:
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle pain
The flu virus is the most common cause of viral pneumonia in adults, which tends to be more serious in people with heart or lung disease, senior citizens, and pregnant women.
Not only can influenza cause pneumonia, it can also predispose people to bacterial pneumonia yet another good reason to get the yearly flu shot.
Respiratory syncytial virus pneumonia is usually a mild infection that clears up in about a week or two. It can be more severe and is more common in young children and older adults. In fact, RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia in children younger than 12 months.
How Does Pneumonia Lead To Death
The most common complication from pneumonia is a condition called pleural effusion. This is the buildup of fluid in the membranes around the lungs inside the chest cavity. It causes pain and impairs your ability to breathe. These and other complications of pneumonia can lead to a worsening of pre-existing heart and lung conditions.
How Long Is Pneumonia Contagious
The average time an individual is contagious from pneumonia is approximately 10 days. However, some cases of pneumonia can be contagious for several weeks, depending on the form of pneumonia and the type of medical treatment recommended.
Antibiotics can significantly decrease the contagiousness of bacterial pneumonias. After starting antibiotics, an individual is still contagious for another 24 to 48 hours. Once the fever associated with the illness is gone, the pneumonia is less likely to be contagious. Coughing can continue for several weeks due to lingering inflammation, even after effective treatment.
Home remedies such as the use of honey to relieve coughing and zinc to boost the immune system, especially during a case of viral pneumonia, can be helpful tools, according to Kate Tulenko, MD, the founder and CEO of Corvus Health.
Getting medical treatment can reduce the duration of illness and the risk of spreading it to other people. If your fever returns or if lingering symptoms fail to go away, ask a healthcare provider for advice.
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What Are The Main Differences Between Bacterial And Viral Pneumonia
Common symptoms of pneumonia include3
- difficulty breathing
- increased breathing rate
When a patient presents with these symptoms, the next step is to examine the lungs with a stethoscope. With pneumonia, decreased breath sounds, wheezing, or crackles on listening to the lungs, are all indications that can help point towards a diagnosis. The next step is to order a radiograph or X-ray if pneumonia is suspected.
The radiograph still remains the reference standard for a medical diagnosis of pneumonia, and also helps to differentiate between bacterial and viral pneumonia. However, a combination of clinical symptoms, exam findings, and imaging is the best way to uncover the most likely culprit.3,4
When Is Pneumonia Contagious
Pneumonia is contagious when the causative pathogens are expelled by an infected person by coughing out infected droplets. These expelled droplets contain the bacteria or virus that causes the pneumonia. These droplets contaminate the mouth or breathing tract of another individual to eventually infect their lungs.
The approximate time when pneumonia becomes contagious varies with the type of infecting agent and may range from one to two days to weeks. In addition, some pneumonias are more highly contagious than others. For example, Mycobacterium and Mycoplasma organisms are highly contagious, but other types, including pneumococcal pneumonia, require optimal conditions to spread to another person and are weakly contagious.
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When To Contact A Medical Professional
- Cough that brings up bloody or rust-colored mucus
- Breathing symptoms that get worse
- Chest pain that gets worse when you cough or breathe in
- Fast or painful breathing
- Night sweats or unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath, shaking chills, or persistent fevers
- Signs of pneumonia and a weak immune system
- Worsening of symptoms after initial improvement
How Can You Catch Pneumoniaand Who’s Most At Risk
When pneumonia is caused by either bacteria or viruses, it can spread between people in a variety of ways: being exposed to viral particles through uncovered coughs or sneezes, sharing drinks or utensils with an infected person, or even touching a tissue from or taking care of a person with pneumonia. It’s important to note that these are mainly examples of community-acquired pneumonia, which occurs when someone develops pneumonia in the general community, per the CDC.
Anyone can get pneumonia, according to the ALA, but some people are at a greater risk for having severe pneumonia than others. Those include:
- People age 65 and over.
- Children under two years old.
- People with chronic lung diseases like COPD or cystic fibrosis.
- People with serious chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease.
- People with a weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDs, an organ transplant, chemotherapy, or long-term steroid use.
- People with difficulty swallowing.
- Those who had a recent respiratory infection, like a cold, laryngitis, or the flu.
- People who have been recently hospitalized.
- People who abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Exposure to certain chemicals, pollutants, or toxic fumes, including secondhand smoke.
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Follow Your Treatment Plan
It is important that you take all your medicines as your doctor prescribes. If you are using antibiotics, continue to take the medicine until it is all gone. You may start to feel better before you finish the medicine, but you should continue to take it. If you stop too soon, the bacterial infection and your pneumonia may come back. It may also become resistant to the antibiotic, making treatment more difficult.
More Severe Cases May Also Cause:
- quick breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- nausea and vomiting
Some people get a sharp pain in their chest when they breathe in and out. This may be because the thin lining between the lung and ribcage, called the pleura, is infected and inflamed. This inflammation, called pleurisy, stops your lungs moving smoothly as you breathe.
The symptoms of pneumonia are often very similar to those of other chest infections, such as bronchitis, COPD flare-ups or bronchiectasis flare-ups. To get a proper diagnosis youll need to visit your GP.
If you feel unwell with these symptoms, see your GP or call 111. If you have chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, quick breathing, shivers or confusion, get urgent advice from your GP or call 999. Take extra care if youre over 65.
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Are Vaccines Available To Prevent Pneumonia
Yes, there are two types of vaccines specifically approved to prevent pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Similar to a flu shot, these vaccines wont protect against all types of pneumonia, but if you do come down with pneumonia, its less likely to be as severe or potentially life-threatening especially for people who are at increased risk for pneumonia.
- Bacterial pneumonia: Two pneumonia vaccines, Pneumovax23® and Prevnar13®, protect against the most common causes of bacterial pneumonia.
- Pneumovax23® protects against 23 different types of pneumococcal bacteria. It is recommended for all adults 65 years of age and older and children over 2 years of age who are at increased risk for pneumonia.
- Prevnar13® protects against 13 types of pneumonia bacteria. It is recommended for all adults 65 years of age and older and children under 2 years of age. Ask your healthcare provider about these vaccines.
If you have children, ask their doctor about other vaccines they should get. Several childhood vaccines help prevent infections caused by the bacteria and viruses that can lead to pneumonia.
What Is Fungal Pneumonia
Three types of fungi living in soil are known causes of pneumonia:
- Coccidioides immitis and Coccidiodes posadasii are two related fungi common to the American Southwest. Both can cause coccidioidomycosis, also known as cocci or valley fever.
- Histoplasma capsulatum is found in the central and eastern United States, especially areas around the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys, and causes a disease called histoplasmosis.
- Cryptococcus is a fungi found in soil and bird droppings all across the country.
Most people who inhale these fungi don’t get sick, but if your immune system is weak, you may develop pneumonia.
Another fungus, Pneumocystis jirovecii, can generate an infection in premature, malnourished infants, and in people with a weakened immune system, such as those who have HIV or AIDS.
The symptoms of pneumonia that are caused by fungi are often similar to those of other forms of pneumonia, including a fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
But because this type of pneumonia usually affects people with weakened immune systems, symptoms tend to develop faster, and people often experience a high fever.
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How Is Pneumonia Treated
How pneumonia is treated depends on the germs that cause it.
- Bacterial pneumonia: Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics. The specific antibiotic choice depends on such factors as your general health, other health conditions you may have, the type of medications you are currently taking , your recent use of antibiotics, any evidence of antibiotic resistance in the local community and your age. Medicines to relieve pain and lower fever may also be helpful. Ask your doctor if you should take a cough suppressant. Its important to be able to cough to clear your lungs.
- Viral pneumonia: Antibiotics are not used to fight viruses. There are no treatments for most viral causes of pneumonia. However, if the flu virus is thought to be the cause, antiviral drugs might be prescribed, such as oseltamivir , zanamivir , or peramivir , to decrease the length and severity of the illness. Over-the-counter medicines to relieve pain and lower fever are usually recommended. Other medicines and therapies such as breathing treatments and exercises to loosen mucus may be prescribed by your doctor.
- Fungal pneumonia: Antifungal medication is prescribed if a fungus is the cause of your pneumonia.
Key Points About Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
There are more than 30 different causes of pneumonia, and theyre grouped by the cause. The main types of pneumonia are bacterial, viral, and mycoplasma pneumonia.
A cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus is the most common symptom of pneumonia. Other symptoms include fever, shaking chills, shortness of breath, low energy, and extreme tiredness.
Pneumonia can often be diagnosed with a thorough history and physical exam. Tests used to look at the lungs, blood tests, and tests done on the sputum you cough up may also be used.
Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have. Antibiotics are used for bacterial pneumonia. It may also speed recovery from mycoplasma pneumonia and some special cases. Most viral pneumonias dont have a specific treatment and just get better on their own. Other treatment may include a healthy diet, more fluids, rest, oxygen therapy, and medicine for pain, cough, and fever control.
Most people with pneumonia respond well to treatment, but pneumonia can cause serious lung and infection problems. It can even be deadly.
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Incubation Period And Symptoms Of Pneumonia
The incubation period is the time from when you pick up the pneumonia virus to when you actively display symptoms. Many variables affect this, including the type of pneumonia, your general health, and your age. You may assume that you have a cold or the flu when symptoms begin because they are quite similar. However, they last longer and become more severe with time instead of less.
Who Is At Risk For Pneumonia
Anyone can get pneumonia, but certain factors increase your risk for developing the illness. These include:
- Being younger than two years of age
- Being 65 years and older
- Having lung disease, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or cystic fibrosis
- Having other certain health conditions or a weakened immune system due to diabetes, kidney disease, cancer treatment, human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome , an organ transplant or other factors
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How Do You Get Pneumonia
The way pneumonia develops and spreads depends on the type and cause, says David Cutler, MD, family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
Many types of microbes including bacteria, viruses, and fungi can cause pneumonia. These germs commonly spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes and expels bacterial or viral droplets. These droplets could land on a surface, such as a table or a doorknob, infecting others who come into contact with the surface and then touch their eyes or mouth. Or, you may breathe in respiratory droplets from an infected person.
Most of the time, your immune system can effectively fight off these germs. But sometimes they overpower your body’s natural defenses and invade your lungs. In response, your body produces white blood cells to fight off the attackers, filling the lung’s air sacs with pus or cellular debris and causing pneumonia.
Adults older than 65 and children under the age of two are at an increased risk of developing pneumonia. This is because an older adult’s immune system isn’t as robust as a young adult’s, and a young child’s immune system is still developing.
Those who are immunocompromised or take medication that suppresses the immune system, like oral corticosteroids, are also at an increased risk of pneumonia because their bodies may not be able to fight off the germs that cause the infection.
Can Pneumonia Be Prevented
Some types of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines. Kids usually get routine vaccines against Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus, and whooping cough beginning at 2 months of age.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all kids ages 6 months through 19 years. Its extra important for kids who have a chronic illness such as a heart or lung disorder or asthma.
When possible, keep kids away from anyone with symptoms of a respiratory infection.
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Medical History And Physical Exam
Your doctor will ask about your signs and symptoms and when they began. Your doctor will also ask whether you have any risk factors for pneumonia. Your doctor also may ask about:
- Exposure to sick people at home, school, or work or in a hospital
- Flu or pneumonia vaccinations
- Exposure to birds and other animals
During your physical exam, your doctor will check your temperature and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope.
What Causes Bacterial Pneumonia
Doctors often refer to typical and atypical pneumonias, based on the signs and symptoms of the condition. This can help to predict the type of bacteria causing the pneumonia, the duration of the illness, and the optimal treatment method.
Typical pneumonia comes on very quickly.
- Typical pneumonia usually results in a high fever and shaking chills.
- Typical pneumonia usually leads to the production of yellow or brown sputum when coughing.
- There may be chest pain, which is usually worse with breathing or coughing. The chest also may be sore when it is touched or pressed.
- Typical pneumonia can cause shortness of breath, especially if the person has any chronic lung conditions such as asthma or emphysema.
- Because chest pain also can be a sign of other serious medical conditions, do not try to self-diagnose.
- Older people can have confusion or a change in their mental abilities as a sign of pneumonia or other infection.
Atypical pneumonia has a gradual onset.
- It is often referred to as “walking pneumonia.”
- Sometimes it follows another illness in the days to weeks before the pneumonia.
- The fever is usually lower, and shaking chills are less likely.
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Who Is Most At Risk For Getting Pneumonia
People who have an increased risk of pneumonia include:
- People over the age of 65 and infants under age 2. The weakening immune system of older people makes them less able to fight off illnesses. Similarly, the immune system of infants is still developing and not at full-strength, making them more susceptible to infection.
- People with a health-caused weakened immune system. Examples include:
- People who are receiving chemotherapy
- Transplanted organ recipients
- People who have HIV/AIDS
- People with autoimmune disease and who are taking medications that suppress the immune system.