“Walking pneumonia" sounds like it could be the name of a sci-fi horror flick. But it's actually the least scary kind of pneumonia. It can be milder than the other types, and you usually don’t have to stay in the hospital. You could have walking pneumonia and not even know it.
It Might Feel Like a Cold
Walking pneumonia is how some people describe a mild case of pneumonia. Your doctor might call it “atypical pneumonia” because it’s not like more serious cases.
A lung infection is often to blame. Lots of things can cause it, including:
- Inhaled food
Walking pneumonia usually is due to a bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
If you have this condition, you probably won’t have to stay in bed or in the hospital. You might even feel good enough go to work and keep up your regular routine, just as you might with a cold.
Who Gets It?
Anyone can get it. Walking pneumonia from mycoplasma is most common in children, military recruits, and adults younger than 40.
People who live and work in crowded places -- such as schools, dorms, military barracks, and nursing homes -- are more likely to be exposed to it.
Late summer and fall are the most common times of year for you to get walking pneumonia. But infections can happen throughout the year.
Is It Contagious?
Yes. It spreads through sneezes or coughs. But it spreads slowly. If you get it, you could be contagious (which means you could spread it to other people) for up to 10 days.
Researchers think it takes a lot of close contact with an infected person for you to develop walking pneumonia. Still, there are widespread outbreaks every four to eight years.
Symptoms generally start 15 to 25 days after you’re exposed to mycoplasma and slowly worsen over two to four days. You might have:
- Chest pain when you take a deep breath in
- Cough that may come in violent spasms
- Mild flu-like symptoms such as fever and chills
- Sore throat
- Lingering weakness that may last after other symptoms go away
Your doctor will make the diagnosis after talking with you and giving you a physical exam.
Tell her about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. She may also ask you about where you work and whether anyone at home or at work is also sick.
You doctor will listen to your chest with a stethoscope. She may also ask you to get a chest X-ray and a blood test. There is a blood test that can identify a mycoplasma infection. You probably won’t get that test though, unless there is a widespread outbreak in your area.
Many over-the-counter medicines used for colds and flus may not relieve all of your symptoms.
When you see your doctor, she will decide if you need antibiotics. If she does start you on them, you should begin to feel better within a few days.
Tell your doctor about any medicines you take or plan to take. You should also drink plenty of fluids and give yourself lots of time to rest.
Can I Get It More Than Once?
It’s possible. You might have some immunity for a while, but it's unclear how long it lasts. If you do get it again, it may be milder than the first time.
There is no vaccine for mycoplasma infections, so you can’t completely prevent it. There are things you can do, though, to reduce your chances of getting it:
- Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and get enough sleep. Doing these things will help keep your body healthy and better able to resist infection.
- Wash your hands often. It’s one of the best ways to prevent germs from spreading.
- Don't smoke. Smoking damages the lungs, and damaged lungs are more likely to get infected.
- Cover your mouth with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. And ask others to do the same. Coughing and sneezing are the main ways that these infections are spread.