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Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia, Causes, Treatment

Updated on January 15, 2014

What is walking pneumonia?

It is an informal term that is used to describe a mild instance of pneumonia. Affected people generally do not feel sick enough to warrant hospitalization or absence from work or school. They can be seen walking around, and hence the name.

Pneumonia is an illness caused by severe lung infection by varied organisms like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and even inhaled food or chemicals. Walking pneumonia on the other hand is usually caused due to infection by a bacteria-like microorganism known as Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Symptoms of walking pneumonia

The signs and symptoms of walking pneumonia usually occur 15 to 25 days after contact with the mycoplasma, and gradually develop through 2 to 4 days. Some of the common symptoms of walking pneumonia are listed below:

  • Sore throat
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Flu-like minor symptoms such as chills and fever
  • Coughing that occurs in forceful spams, but releases minuscule amounts of mucus
  • Some patients may also experience anemia, ear infections, or a rash on the skin.
  • Lasting weakness that may continue even after all the other symptoms have disappeared

Causes of walking pneumonia

People of all age groups can develop walking pneumonia. It is however more prevalent in older children and adults under the age of forty years.

Individuals who work and live in overcrowded places such as homeless shelters, schools, prisons, etc., are at increased risk to developing walking pneumonia. This is due to the fact that the disease is contagious. A healthy person can contract the infection after getting exposed to throat and nasal droplets released by a person who is affected by walking pneumonia. This can usually occur when a patient coughs or sneezing without taking the precaution of covering the mouth.

A majority of walking pneumonia cases are typically reported during late summer and/or fall. However, the disease can also occur throughout the year without any specific pattern. It may also be noted that although walking pneumonia is contagious, it tends to spread slowly. In most instances, the contagious period lasts for under ten days.

Scientists are also of the opinion that walking pneumonia only tends to occur after close contact with a patient for prolonged durations. Despite this, widespread outbreaks of walking pneumonia occur after every 4 to 8 years. During such outbreaks, nearly fifty percent of pneumonia cases that are reported, turn out be walking pneumonia.

Diagnosis of walking pneumonia

Some instances of walking pneumonia never get diagnosed because affected individuals do not visit the doctor.

Diagnosis of walking pneumonia involves a physical exam by the doctor and thorough study of the patient’s medical history. The health care provider will inquire about the kind of symptoms and their duration. He/she may also ask about the place of work as well as the presence of any illnesses at work or home. When there is an outbreak of walking pneumonia, and depending on individual cases, the doctor may also recommend a blood test and a chest x-ray. Blood tests can reveal cases of mycoplasma infection, while a chest x-ray will help identify any lung damage.

Treatment of walking pneumonia

Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat walking pneumonia. Minor infections are generally left untreated as the condition tends to disappear on its own. In most cases, patients find relief from the symptoms within a few days after treatment.

People affected by walking pneumonia may not experience full recovery with the intake of flu and cold medications that are available over the counter. It is therefore essential to consult a doctor about the abnormal symptoms. Adequate rest and intake of lots of fluids will also help ease the symptoms.

Individuals who have had previous cases of walking pneumonia tend to develop some level of immunity towards the infection. Such immunity is however temporary. Doctors are also not aware about the duration of this immunity period. The recurrent case of walking pneumonia however tends to be milder as compared to the first instance.

Prevention of walking pneumonia

Currently there is no vaccine for walking pneumonia. Hence, one cannot completely prevent the infection. It is however possible to follow certain precautionary guidelines and decrease the risk to contracting the disease. The preventive steps include:

  • Maintain a good personal hygiene. Washing hands on a frequent basis is one of the best ways to avoid the spread of germs and infections.
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet, engage in regular exercising, and get sufficient sleep and rest. This will keep the body healthy and boost the immune system, which in turn will offer greater resistance to varied pathogen attacks.
  • The lungs can get damaged by smoking. Compromised functionality of lungs can increase their vulnerability to infections. Hence, do not smoke or kick the habit.
  • Cover the mouth area with a tissue or a handkerchief whenever you sneeze or cough. If possible, request others to engage in similar practices. Sneezing and coughing are two of the main ways in which infections can spread.


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