What is Walking Pneumonia?

What is Walking Pneumonia?

Walking pneumonia, also called atypical pneumonia, is a bacterial infection of the respiratory tract. Many people with walking pneumonia do not know they have it, as the symptoms are mild and go undetected. It is called walking pneumonia because people with this condition feel well enough to go about their usual routines.

Causes of Walking Pneumonia

Most cases of walking pneumonia is caused by tiny bacteria called mycoplasma pneumoniae. These bacteria do not possess rigid cell walls, so they can change their shape and size to accommodate their environment. The term “atypical” is applied to mycoplasma pneumonia after the causative organisms were found to be resistant to penicillin and beta-lactams (antimicrobial agents) that fight pneumococcal pneumonia. This resistance is related to the flexible cell wall of the bacterium.

Another type of bacterium that causes walking pneumonia is chlamydophilia pneumoniae. These organism most often affect school-age children. The other bacterium that can cause atypical pneumonia is legionella pneumophila, which is also known as Legionnaires’ disease. This illness is more serious than other types of walking pneumonia, and is not spread through person-to-person contact.

Mycoplasma pneumonia and chlamydophilia pneumonia are both spread by person-to-person contact. One person infected with the bacteria will sneeze, cough, or touch items and the bacteria is transmitted to another person. Infections are easily spread in crowded places where people are in close proximity to others, such as dormitories, schools, and nursing homes. With Legionella pneumonia, it is found in hot tubs, fountains, and hot water tanks. People become infected when they inhale mist or water vapor.

Symptoms of Atypical Pneumonia

The onset of mycoplasma pneumonia is gradual, as the disease has an incubation period of 1-4 weeks. Typical early symptoms are headache, sore throat, low-grade fever, and dry cough. During the later stages of the infection, symptoms get worse, fever becomes higher, and coughing produces discolored sputum. Additional symptoms may include abdominal pain, chills, and muscle aches.

Prevalence of Walking Pneumonia

Around 2 million cases of mycoplasma pneumonia occur in America every year. In addition, around 15,000 persons are admitted to the hospital due to Legionnaires’ disease annually.

Walking Pneumonia Diagnosis

If your doctor suspects walking pneumonia, he/she will ask you questions about your symptoms, inquire about your medical history, and see if any of your friends or family members have been ill. The doctor will conduct a physical examination, and take a chest x-ray. To confirm atypical pneumonia, the doctor may collect a sputum specimen for testing.

Treatment of Atypical Pneumonia

Mycoplasma pneumonia will often go away without treatment after a few weeks. However, when symptoms persist, or are severe, the patient can take antibiotics that shorten the recovery time. For chlamydia pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia, and Legionnaires’ pneumonia, medications include:

• Macrolide antibiotics – These drugs are the preferred treatment for both adults and children. Macrolides include clarithromycin (Biaxin) and azithromycin (Zithromax).
• Tetracyclines – This group of medicines tetracycline and doxycycline. Both of these drugs are used in older children and adults.
• Fluoroquinolones – Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and levofloxacin (Levaquin) are two drugs used only for adults.

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