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Viral pneumonia

Definition

Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus.

Alternative Names

Pneumonia - viral; "Walking pneumonia" - viral

Causes

Viral pneumonia is more likely to occur in young children and older adults. This is because their bodies have a harder time fighting off the virus than people with a strong immune system.

Viral pneumonia is most often caused by one of several viruses:

Serious viral pneumonia is more likely to happen in those with a weakened immune system, such as:

Symptoms

Symptoms of viral pneumonia often begin slowly and may not be severe at first.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

The doctor will perform a physical exam.

If the doctor thinks you have pneumonia, you will also have a chest x-ray. This is because the physical exam may not be able to tell pneumonia from acute bronchitis or other respiratory infections.

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, other tests may be done, including:

Treatment

Antibiotics do not treat viral pneumonia. Antiviral medication only works against influenza pneumonia and some pneumonias caused by the herpes family of viruses. Antiviral drugs may be tried, especially if the infection is caught early.

Treatment may also involve:

A hospital stay may be needed to prevent dehydration and to help with breathing if the infection is serious.

People are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if they:

However, many people can be treated at home. You can take these steps at home:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment within 1 to 3 weeks. Some cases are more serious and require a hospital stay.

Possible Complications

More serious infections can result in respiratory failure, liver failure, and heart failure. Sometimes, bacterial infections occur during or just after viral pneumonia, which may lead to more serious forms of pneumonia.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if symptoms of viral pneumonia develop or your condition gets worse after starting to improve.

Prevention

Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, diapering a baby, and before eating or preparing food.

Do not smoke. Tobacco damages your lungs' ability to ward off infection.

Vaccines may help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions.

If your immune system is weak, stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.

References

Lee FE, Treanor J. Viral infections. In: Mason RJ, VC Broaddus, Martin TR, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010:chap 31.

Limper AH. Overview of pneumonia. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 97.



Review Date: 8/25/2014
Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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