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What Is Walking Pneumonia? Is It A Serious Condition?

Walking pneumonia (WP) is the infection of the lungs or say, a milder form of pneumonia that affects the upper and lower respiratory tract. It is also known as 'atypical pneumonia' as the bacteria behind the condition is an atypical bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae (MPe).

The unique features of these bacteria are: they usually reside and grow in the nose, throat, trachea and lungs and cause milder symptoms, they are resistant to medicines that normally treat pneumonia (penicillin) and are often mistaken as a virus due to the absence of typical bacterial cell structure.

People with WP usually carry the bacteria in their system unknowingly and perform their regular tasks like going to college or work, or any regular routine. The infection lasts anywhere between a week or a month. The WP is not severe compared to other forms of pneumonia and does not require any hospitalisation or bed rest. Let's know more about this atypical pneumonia.

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Causes Of Walking Pneumonia

The WP is usually caused by three different types of atypical bacteria in people of different age groups.

  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae: It is common in the paediatric age group (0-18 years). It is one of the causes of community-acquired pneumonia. [1]
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae: It is common in school-going children and adults.
  • Legionella pneumophila: It is a serious type of WP usually found in older adults, smokers, people with chronic conditions and those with a weaker immune system. It is also termed as Legionnaires' disease.
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Is Walking Pneumonia Contagious?

The WP is contagious and rapidly spreads from one person to another. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, the tiny droplets that come out from their mouth become airborne and infect people who are in close contact with them.

This bacterial infection easily spreads in people who reside in crowded or shared places such as school, homes or dormitories. WP is common during late summer and fall. However, it can occur at any time of the year but the contagious rate might be slow. [2]

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Symptoms Of Walking Pneumonia

The symptoms of WP are often similar to the common cold for the first weeks. [3] They include:

  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Persistent cough
  • Fever
  • Weakness

After a week, the symptoms become worse and cause:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach upset
  • High fever
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Ear infection
  • Skin rash
  • Cough with mucus
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Risk Factors Of Walking Pneumonia

The risk of developing WP is greater in people who are: [4]

  • Above the age of 65
  • Have a weaker immune system
  • Children under two years old
  • Have existing lung or respiratory diseases like COPD
  • Take immunosuppressive drugs for a longer time
  • Use asthmatic inhalers for a longer time
  • Smokers

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Diagnosis Of Walking Pneumonia

  • Physical exam: Here, general questions about the patient's symptoms, how long they have been exposed to infection and medical history will be asked followed by checking the pulse and breathing rate.
  • X-ray: To view the spread of the infection in the lungs and also to rule out other conditions.
  • Blood test: To identify mycoplasma infection. [2]
  • Throat swab test: To identify that pneumonia is caused by MPe and rule out other infections by viruses or fungus. [5]
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Treatment Of Walking Pneumonia

  • Antibiotics: To kill bacterial infections.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: To reduce the symptoms of WP such as pain, cough and fever.

The WP usually goes away by using antibiotics. Apart from that, medical experts also suggest herbal teas or immunity-boosting herbs to boost the immune system. Taking proper rest and avoiding any kind of stress also helps in lowering the symptoms. Also, consult a medical expert before taking any regular fever drugs or cough syrups as they may suppress your cough and make the body harder to expel mucus. [6]

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How To Prevent Walking Pneumonia?

  • Quit smoking
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Maintain a distance from ill people
  • Wash hands at intervals
  • Cover mouth while sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid sharing food or cups
  • Get a flu vaccine each year
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Common FAQs

1. Will walking pneumonia go away on its own?

Most of the times, walking pneumonia may go on its own if a person takes proper care of their health and eat immunity-boosting foods. If not, it can easily be treated by an antibiotic after proper consultation with a medical expert.

2. How serious is walking pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia often shows milder symptoms. It gets serious when left untreated for a week or two. In older people, children and people with existing medical conditions, the WP can become more serious and cause death if not treated on time.

3. If I've had walking pneumonia, can I get it again?

If you had walking pneumonia before, for some time your body will have the immunity to deal with the infection. However, you may get the infection again when your body's immune system gets weaker again. In seasons when walking pneumonia is more prevalent, you may acquire the infection frequently. The exact time of the immunity lasting in our body is, however, unclear and varies from person to person.