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What Are The Symptoms Of Walking Pneumonia?

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Walking Pneumonia: Symptoms And Other Factors

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 have serious complications in the case of children, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immunity.

The term “walking pneumonia” may spook you a bit, as if a deadly pneumonia monster were 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.

What Is Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia, caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae, is a milder version of pneumonia.

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.1Walking 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

Symptoms Of Walking Pneumonia

Located somewhere between a cold, flu, and pneumonia, walking pneumonia is certainly an unusual condition. The incubation time for the bacteria is 1 to 4 weeks,3 which means symptoms show after 1 to 4 weeks of infection. They are often mistaken for a cold or sniffles brought on by a change in season or an allergy – that’s how mild the symptoms are. In most cases, people go about their work or daily tasks with mild discomfort. Sometimes, the only signs that patients notice are a low-grade fever and a dry cough, but in general, symptoms include:

It takes up to a month for the symptoms to be noticeable after you’ve been infected by the mycoplasma bacteria.

  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Dry cough
  • Headache
  • Mild fever
  • Muscle stiffness and aches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing problems, including rapid breathing or shortness of breath

It Is More Common Among Children

The infection spreads through droplets, that is through coughing or sneezing, and affects children and adults, mostly, below 40.

People of any age group can contract walking pneumonia, though those below 40 are more susceptible.4 Children are usually more prone to it because they have weaker immune systems and because walking pneumonia is a droplet infection – that is, it spreads when an infected person sneezes.5 The chances of them contracting it in a crowded place like a classroom is much higher. This, however, does not mean adults are immune to the disease.

It Lasts Up To A Month

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.

It Is Contagious

Mild symptoms don’t make walking pneumonia any less contagious either – without treatment, you could spread the disease far and wide.6 People infected with the bacteria have it in their nose, throat, windpipe, and lungs and spread it through coughing and sneezing, while in close contact with others, especially in crowded spaces or environments such as schools, colleges, camps, or hospitals. The contagious period is 10 days or sometimes, longer, after infection. 

You can spread the infection for about 10 days after you have been infected.

Despite that, 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.7 Many times, what we brush off as a persistent cold may be putting children, individuals with compromised immunity, or people with poor access to healthcare in a vulnerable position. And the situation can deteriorate rapidly after a point.

It Can Give Rise To Complications

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.

Children, pregnant women, and people with a weak or compromised immunity should not delay visiting a doctor if infected.

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.8

It Can Be Treated With Antibiotics

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.9 You may also try out herbal remedies, Ayurveda, yoga, and easy home remedies.

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. Mycoplasma Pneumoniae Infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4. Atypical Pneumonia. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
5. Youn, You-Sook, and Kyung-Yil Lee. “Mycoplasma pneumoniae pneumonia in children.” Korean journal of pediatrics 55, no. 2 (2012): 42-47.
6. Dingle J.H, “Primary Atypical Pneumonia”, American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health, April 1944, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 347-357.
7. Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
8. Pneumonia – weakened immune system. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
9. Mycoplasma pneumoniae Infection, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.