What Is Walking Pneumonia?

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.

lung infection is often to blame. Lots of things can cause it, including:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
  • Chemicals
  • Inhaled food

Walking pneumonia usually is due to bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

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 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 come into contact with it.

Late summer and fall are the most common times of year for walking pneumonia. But infections can happen throughout the year.

Is It Contagious?

Walking pneumonia 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 a healthy person to catch walking pneumonia. Still, there are widespread outbreaks every 4 to 8 years.

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Symptoms

Symptoms generally start 15 to 25 days after you’re exposed to mycoplasma and slowly get worse over 2 to 4 days. You might have:

Some people with walking pneumonia may also have an ear infectionanemia, or a skin rash.

If you have a new cough, fever, or shortness of breath, call your doctor to talk about whether it might be COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Diagnosis

Symptoms generally start 15 to 25 days after you’re exposed to mycoplasma and slowly get worse over 2 to 4 days. You might have:

Some people with walking pneumonia may also have an ear infectionanemia, or a skin rash.

If you have a new cough, fever, or shortness of breath, call your doctor to talk about whether it might be COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Treatment

Many over-the-counter medicines for cold and flu may not relieve all of your symptoms.

Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics. They should make you feel better within a few days.

Tell your doctor about any other medicines you take or plan to take. Drink plenty of fluids and give yourself lots of time to rest.

Can I Get Walking Pneumonia More Than Once?

It’s possible. You might have some immunity for a while, but it's not clear how long it lasts. If you do get it again, it may be milder than the first time.

Prevention

There’s no vaccine for mycoplasma infection, so you can’t completely prevent it. But you can take some steps to lower your chances of getting it:

  • Exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, and get enough sleep to 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 your lungs, and damaged lungs are more likely to get infected.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze. Ask others to do the same. Coughing and sneezing are the main ways that these infections are spread.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on April 02, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

FamilyDoctor.org: "Walking Pneumonia."

American Lung Association: "Pneumonia."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Pneumonia."

New York State Department of Health: "Mycoplasma Infection (walking pneumonia, atypical pneumonia)."

Broward County Florida Medical Examiner & Trauma Services Division: "Walking (a) Pneumonia."

CDC: “Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infection.”

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

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