“Walking pneumonia” – I bet most of you have not even heard of this until now. The reason why you have never heard of it and the reason why it was tagged as walking pneumonia is that it is a mild form of pneumonia (an infection of the lungs). People who have it may even feel well enough to be walking around and carrying out daily tasks, not even realizing that they have it.
In this article, we will talk about what walking pneumonia is, who gets it, what time of the year do people usually get it, its symptoms, and more importantly, how to treat it.
What is Walking Pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia is caused by an atypical bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which can live and grow in the nose, throat, windpipe (trachea) and lungs (respiratory tract). Researchers identified that this type of pneumonia caused by mycoplasma is atypical because the cells causing the infection are resistant to penicillin, the drug commonly used to treat pneumonia. It also has milder symptoms compared to other forms of pneumonia and is often mistaken as a virus since the cell structure of this bacteria is different from others.
Types of Pneumonia
Mycoplasma pneumonia: It’s been estimated that 1 to 10 out of every 50 cases are caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It’s usually milder than other types of pneumonia and is the most common cause of pneumonia in school-aged children. It accounts for 10 to 40 percent of the cases of community-acquired pneumonia contracted outside a healthcare setting. It is a milder form of pneumonia that does not require bed rest or hospitalization.
Chlamydial pneumonia: Children who are in school are more likely to be infected with Chlamydia pneumoniae bacterium. It’s estimated that 300,000 people get infected each year with this bacterium.
Legionella pneumonia (Legionnaires’ disease): This is one of the most severe types of walking pneumonia, as it can lead to both respiratory failure and death. It doesn’t spread through person-to-person contact, but through droplets from contaminated water systems. It mostly affects older adults, those with chronic illnesses, and weakened immune systems. About 5,000 cases are found each year in the United States.
Most people who have walking pneumonia mistakenly identifies it as a common cold or flu due to its symptoms.
Walking Pneumonia Symptoms
Symptoms generally start 2 weeks after exposure to mycoplasma and will slowly worsen over the course of a month. Some of the known symptoms of walking pneumonia are:
- Sore throat
- Inflammation in the windpipe and its main branches
- Fever and chills
- A persistent cough that may come in violent spasms
- Difficulty in breathing / Rapid breathing
- Lingering weakness that may last after other symptoms go away
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms can also vary based on where the infection is. For example, an infection in the upper respiratory tract will cause more labored breathing, while an infection in the lower respiratory tract, including the lungs, may cause nausea, vomiting, or an upset stomach.
Symptoms in children: Children, infants, and toddlers may show the same symptoms as adults.
Who Gets Walking Pneumonia
About 2 million people in the United States get walking pneumonia due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae each year. Anyone can get it but is most common among children. Families who contract the infection will show symptoms two to three weeks later. Walking pneumonia is also common among people who live in crowded areas such as schools, dormitories, barracks, and nursing homes; and adults younger than 40 years old.
Late summer and fall are the most common times of the year for you to get walking pneumonia; but infections can happen throughout the year.
Is Walking Pneumonia Contagious?
Walking pneumonia is contagious, and it spreads steadily through sneezes or coughs. Researchers think it takes a lot of close contact with an infected person for you to develop walking pneumonia. Still, there are widespread outbreaks every four to eight years.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Walking Pneumonia
If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms and are mostly in crowded areas, it is highly recommended that you visit a doctor for an appointment. Your doctor may ask you to get a chest X-ray in order for him or her to perform a proper diagnosis. A chest X-ray can distinguish between pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. If you do visit your doctor for your symptoms, your doctor may also perform a physical exam, ask about your overall health history and symptoms (it is important to take note that duration of the symptoms for accurate diagnosis), and conduct other tests to diagnose for pneumonia.
Some laboratory tests used to diagnose pneumonia include testing of the culture of mucus from your lungs (sputum grain study), throat swab, complete blood count (CBC), tests for specific antibodies, and blood culture. Another blood test can find an increase in certain immune substances called cold agglutinins. This test won’t confirm that you have walking pneumonia, but it can suggest it. Upon completion of the tests, your physician will make the diagnosis and will give you the right prescription.
Many over-the-counter medicines used for colds and flu may not relieve all of your symptoms. Antibiotics are generally prescribed based on the type of bacterium that’s causing your pneumonia, but your physician should decide if antibiotics are needed for your treatment. If advised, make sure you take them accordingly per the given time duration, and you should begin feeling better within the next few days.
This condition is rarely serious and may go away on its own in a few weeks. Similar to other illnesses, you should also drink plenty of fluids and give yourself lots of time to recuperate.
Walking Pneumonia Prevention
No vaccination prevents walking pneumonia or the bacteria that causes it. It is also possible to get it more than once and become infected again. As they say, “prevention is better than cure”. Here are some prevention tips:
- Wash your hands before touching your face, before/after handling food
- Cough or sneeze into tissues and immediately dispose of them
- Wear masks if you already have flu-like symptoms
- Avoid sharing food, utensils, and cups
- Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and get enough sleep
- Don’t smoke. Smoking damages the lungs, and damaged lungs are more likely to get infected.
Walking pneumonia may be relatively milder compared to other types of pneumonia. However, it is still essential to get yourself checked if you feel unwell and are already exhibiting the above symptoms. Walking pneumonia may not hinder you from waking up early and functioning as usual, but it is always better to be healthy.