If you’ve ever experienced dry cough, sore throat, or mild fever which lasted several weeks, you have most likely been affected by one of several types of walking pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia, also known as atypical pneumonia, affects a large number of people in the country every year. Many of its forms are mild enough to go away on their own. However, legionella pneumonia (commonly known as legionnaires’ disease) can be deadly if left unchecked.
On average, children are more likely to be affected by walking pneumonia, the vast majority of the cases are the chlamydial and mycoplasma types.
Walking pneumonia, though usually not as dangerous as the regular pneumonia, is still treated with the same caution. Read on to find out more about walking pneumonia symptoms.
What Is Walking Pneumonia
In a nutshell, walking pneumonia is a bacterial disease, an infection of the lower and upper respiratory tract. Most often, patients suffering from walking pneumonia experience symptoms similar to the full-blown pneumonia, only milder.
Walking Pneumonia is also called atypical pneumonia, due to the fact that it can’t be treated with penicillin. As many as two million people are affected by the disease annually in the United States.
Types of Walking Pneumonia
Three basic types of walking pneumonia exist – chlamydial pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia, and legionella pneumonia. Here’s a word or two about each type.
- Chlamydial pneumonia. This type is most spread in crowded settings. People usually get chlamydial pneumonia for the first time when they were kids in schools and kindergartens. It is somewhat less likely to be found among adults. It is caused by the Chlamydophila pneumoniae bacteria and is accompanied by mild symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 300,000 people are affected by chlamydial pneumonia every year.
- Mycoplasma Pneumonia. This variety of walking pneumonia is, according to the CDC, the most common type of atypical pneumonia among school kids in the United States. It is caused by the Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria and is characterized by very mild symptoms. 2-10% of all community-acquired pneumonia cases in the US are caused by Mycoplasma Pneumoniae.
- Legionella pneumonia (legionnaires’ disease). This is among the most dangerous types of atypical (walking) pneumonia, as it can cause respiratory failure and even death. Unlike the other types of walking pneumonia, this one’s not transmitted through direct contact but contaminated water systems. Typically, it affects people over 40 (older adults), individuals with a weakened immune system, and patients suffering from chronic illnesses. According to the CDC, there are around 5,000 cases of legionella pneumonia in the US every year.
There are other types of bacteria which can cause atypical (walking) pneumonia. Some of them include Coxiella burnetii, Francisella tularensis, and Chlamydophila psittaci.
How It Differs from Pneumonia
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are always milder than those of pneumonia. Dry cough and low fever accompany walking pneumonia, as opposed to high fever, cough with mucus, breathing difficulties characteristic of pneumonia. Walking pneumonia can only be caused by bacteria, while pneumonia can also be caused by fungi and viruses.
Many times, walking pneumonia goes untreated, as the majority of people find its symptoms bearable enough. However, walking pneumonia often lasts longer than the regular one, as the symptoms might be present for up to six weeks.
Walking Pneumonia Symptoms
Walking pneumonia, depending on the type, may have a wide variety of symptoms. Depending on the strength of the patient’s immune system and the severity of the infection, these symptoms can range from mild to severe. The most common walking pneumonia symptoms include: tracheobronchitis (inflammation of lung bronchi and the trachea), low fever, sore throat (also referred to as pharyngitis), headache, and dry cough.
Chlamydial pneumonia is often accompanied by the above symptoms. They are usually mild enough for those affected to skip going to the doctor.
In the case of mycoplasma pneumonia, the symptoms might take a long time to develop fully, usually one to four weeks after the exposure. The symptoms worsen with time, as the dry cough picks up sputum and the fever gets worse in the later stages.
With legionnaires’ disease, things are significantly different, as the basic set of symptoms might be accompanied by abdominal pain, muscle aches, chills, and high fever. The typical time of incubation is around two weeks. If left untreated, legionella pneumonia can be lethal.
The risk factors for walking pneumonia are similar to those of regular pneumonia. They include babies and infants aged two and under, seniors over 65 years old, smokers, people who inhale corticosteroids for prolonged periods of time, people with chronic respiratory conditions (such as COPD – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), people with compromised or low immunity.
Walking Pneumonia Diagnosis
In order to diagnose atypical pneumonia (or pneumonia, for that matter), your doctor might perform a chest X-ray on you. Aside from that, the doctor will give you a physical exam, go through your medical history, check your symptoms and your overall health, and conduct various tests.
Some of the lab tests to expect if atypical pneumonia is suspected include a throat swab, CBC (complete blood count), blood culture, sputum gram stain study, mucus culture, as well as tests for specific antibodies and antigens.
Walking Pneumonia Treatment
Since many people affected by walking pneumonia don’t go to the doctor, they treat the symptoms at home. Some of the most common home remedies are similar to the ones used for the common cold. They include resting, drinking tea and other healthy fluids, and ibuprofen or aspirin for fever. You should refrain from using cough suppressants, as they’ll prevent your cough from becoming productive.
If you visit a doctor and get diagnosed with walking pneumonia, you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics according to the bacteria which caused your pneumonia. You’re supposed to take the antibiotics for the prescribed amount of time even after you start feeling better. If you are diagnosed with legionnaires’ disease, you will most likely be hospitalized.
Walking pneumonia is often milder and less dangerous than the full-blown pneumonia. Also, its symptoms might last longer. The notable exception is legionnaires’ disease which can be deadly.
People affected by walking pneumonia often mistake it for a cold and avoid seeing a doctor. However, if you detect the telltale symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor.