Viral Pneumonia

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on August 03, 2022

Pneumonia is an infection in your lungs, and it can make you feel very sick. It's usually caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. In the U.S., about 30% of pneumonias are viral.


These include:

If you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor.


Viruses that can lead to pneumonia include:

  • Influenza (flu) A and B viruses, the most common causes in adults
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is more common in infants and children than in adults
  • Coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the new virus that causes COVID-19
  • Rhinoviruses, parainfluenza viruses, and adenoviruses, which can also cause pinkeye

Other viruses that more rarely cause pneumonia include herpes simplex, measles, and chickenpox.

How Viral Pneumonia Spreads

Viruses that cause pneumonia travel through the air in droplets of fluid after someone sneezes or coughs. These fluids can get into your body through your nose or mouth. You can also get viral pneumonia after touching a virus-covered doorknob or keyboard and then touching your mouth or nose.

Diagnosing Viral Pneumonia

Your doctor’s diagnosis will depend on how severe your infection is. If you have mild symptoms, your doctor may suggest blood tests or a chest X-ray.

If your symptoms are serious, and you are 65 or older (or an infant or young child), your doctor might want to test some of your fluids. They may also put a camera down your throat to check your airways.


If a virus is causing your pneumonia, antibiotics won’t help. Your doctor may give you an antiviral medication.

  • If you have an influenza virus, your doctor may prescribe medications such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), or peramivir (Rapivab). These drugs keep flu viruses from spreading in your body.
  • If RSV is the cause of your pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe a medication such as ribavirin (Virazole). This helps to limit the spread of viruses.

When you have pneumonia, it’s important to get plenty of rest. You might take over-the-counter medicines to fight your fever and ease pain. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids. Check in with your doctor after treatment to make sure your lungs are clear.

In severe cases, you may need to stay in the hospital to get help breathing.


The same steps you would take to try to prevent the flu also help lower your chance of pneumonia.

Show Sources


National Institutes of Health: “What is pneumonia?” “What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?” “How is pneumonia treated?” “Living with pneumonia,” “What causes pneumonia?”

Spiro, S. Clinical Respiratory Medicine, 4th edition. Saunders, 2012.

CDC: “Types of influenza viruses,” “Respiratory syncytial virus infection,” “Human parainfluenza viruses (HPIVs),” “Adenoviruses,” “About coronavirus,” “Common colds: Protect yourself and others,” “How flu spreads,” “Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV): Transmission and prevention,” “CDC says ‘Take 3’ actions to fight the flu,” “Pneumonia can be prevented -- vaccines can help.”

Ruuskanen, O. The Lancet, April 9, 2011.

UpToDate: “Respiratory syncytial virus infection: Treatment,” “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

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