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What Are The Symptoms Of Walking Pneumonia?

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Walking pneumonia is a "milder" form of pneumonia. Common symptoms include a low-grade fever, cough, and a headache, much like the common cold, because of which patients often ignore the condition. But, being a communicable disease, if left untreated it can prove to be fatal in the case of children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals.

The term “walking pneumonia” may spook you a bit, as if a deadly pneumonia monster is prowling the streets. The reality is quite different. A milder form of pneumonia, walking pneumonia is called so because the person affected can “walk” or perform routine activities normally without the need for hospitalization. But is this a condition that you can afford to take lightly? Let’s find out.

In pneumonia, air sacs in the lungs are inflamed and cause breathing difficulties. Over 30 different triggers can cause the condition, ranging from bacteria and viruses to harmful chemicals and even food that has been inhaled accidentally.1 Walking pneumonia (also called atypical or mycoplasma pneumonia), on the other hand, is much milder and is caused specifically by a bacterium called Mycoplasma pneumoniae.2

Signs Of Walking Pneumonia

Located somewhere between a cold, flu, and pneumonia, walking pneumonia is certainly an unusual condition. It is often mistaken for a cold or sniffles brought on by a change in season or an allergy – that’s how mild symptoms are. In most cases, people go about their work or daily tasks with mild discomfort.

Symptoms include

  • sore throat
  • chills
  • dry cough
  • headache
  • mild fever
  • muscle stiffness
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches
  • breathing problems, including rapid breathing or shortness of breath

Sometimes, the only signs that patients notice are a low-grade fever and a dry cough.

Here are some factors that can help you spot the condition early.

  • Age no bar: People of any age group can contract walking pneumonia. Children are usually more prone to it because they have weaker immune systems and because walking pneumonia is a droplet infection(it spreads when an infected person sneezes).3 This, however, does not mean adults are immune to the disease.
  • Walking pneumonia lasts longer than a typical cold. A case of the sniffles often gets better with a week’s worth of rest (and hearty bowls of chicken soup!). Symptoms of walking pneumonia last longer, often for up to a month. So any cough and cold bout that seems to last rather long warrants a doctor’s visit.
  • Some groups of people are more susceptible: If the person with symptoms is a child, a pregnant woman, or someone with a weakened immune system (due to organ transplants, chronic health conditions, chemotherapy or AIDS), a doctor’s opinion is a must, as the infection can worsen rapidly in these groups.4

Should You Be Worried?

Bacteria of the Mycoplasma species are often underestimated because the diseases they cause are often easily treatable (think urinary tract infections and some cases of bacterial vaginosis). Although walking pneumonia often resolves on its own, there is a risk of serious complications in some cases. And being a bacterial illness, it may not always get better on its own. It can even progress into a severe form of pneumonia.

Mild symptoms don’t make it any less contagious either – without treatment, you could spread the disease far and wide.5 Walking pneumonia has the potential to become an epidemic and is quickly spread through coughing and sneezing, especially in crowded spaces or environments such as schools. According to the CDC, an estimated 2 million cases of mycoplasma infections are reported in the United States – but because it’s often underreported, the figure is assumed to be much higher than this.6 Many times, what we brush off as a persistent cold may be putting children, immunocompromised individuals, or people with poor access to healthcare in a vulnerable position. And the situation can deteriorate rapidly after a point.

In most cases, once diagnosed accurately, walking pneumonia is easy to treat with antibiotics. But getting the right diagnosis is important because antibiotics used to fight viral flu or even regular pneumonia may fail when it comes to walking pneumonia.7

People who’ve had a bout of walking pneumonia usually develop some immunity to the disease. However, if several cases of walking pneumonia have been reported in your area and you seem to have a few symptoms, it is best to see a doctor even if you’ve undergone treatment previously.

References   [ + ]

1.Pneumonia: An Infection of The Lungs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2.Waites, Ken B., and Deborah F. Talkington. “Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its role as a human pathogen.” Clinical microbiology reviews 17, no. 4 (2004): 697-728.
3.Youn, You-Sook, and Kyung-Yil Lee. “Mycoplasma pneumoniae pneumonia in children.” Korean journal of pediatrics 55, no. 2 (2012): 42-47.
4.Pneumonia – weakened immune system, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
5.Dingle J.H, “Primary Atypical Pneumonia”, American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, April 1944, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 347-357.
6.Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
7.Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infection, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.

CureJoy Editorial

The CureJoy Editorial team digs up credible information from multiple sources, both academic and experiential, to stitch a holistic health perspective on topics that pique our readers' interest.