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  • Atypical Pneumonia

    (Walking Pneumonia)

    Definition

    Pneumonia is a lung infection. It may be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungus or other types of germs. It can occur in people of all ages and make people very sick.
    Atypical pneumonia is a pneumonia caused by specific bacteria. These bacteria tend to cause milder forms of pneumonia. Since the form is mild many people continue normal activities while sick, leading to the term "walking pneumonia".
    All types of pneumonia are potentially serious conditions. It will require care from your doctor.
    The Lungs (Cut-away View)
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Causes

    Atypical pneumonia is usually caused by one of the following bacteria:
    • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
    • Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria
    • Legionella pneumophila

    Risk Factors

    The following factors increase your chance of developing atypical pneumonia:
    • Contact with someone who has an infection (for mycoplasma and chlamydia)
    • Exposure to water or soil that contains the bacteria (for legionella)
    • Living in closed communities, such as dormitories in boarding schools or colleges, nursing homes, and military barracks
    • Cigarette smoking
    • Lung disease
    • Weakened immune system

    Symptoms

    Symptoms of atypical pneumonia may include any of the following:
      General signs of infection such as:
      • Fever (mild)
      • Enlarged lymph nodes
      • Chills
      • Muscle aches and pains
      Signs of respiratory infection such as:
      • Cough that may produce phlegm
      • Sore throat
      • Chest pain
      • Shortness of breath
      • Fast breathing
    • Abdominal pain
    • Decreased appetite
    • Headache
    • Confusion
    • Fatigue
    • Weakness
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Skin rash
    These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Do not assume they are due to pneumonia. Contact your doctor to discuss your symptoms.

    Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. To look for an infection or specific causes of the infection your doctor may ask for:
    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests
    • Blood cultures
    • Sputum test
    Your doctor may also need to take detailed pictures of your lungs. This is done with a chest x-ray .
    Pneumonia can cause problems with breathing. This may make it difficult for you to get enough oxygen. To measure the level of oxygen in your blood your doctor may do the following tests:
    • Pulse oximetry
    • Arterial blood gas

    Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

    Antibiotics

    Atypical pneumonia due to bacteria can be treated with oral antibiotics. This medication is most often taken at home. However, more severe pneumonia may require antibiotics be delivered by IV in the hospital.

    Oxygen

    If you are severely ill from pneumonia, you may need extra oxygen. Some patients need to be intubated if their lungs are not working well enough. This is the placement of a tube in your throat. It can provide pressure to help keep your lungs open while delivering oxygen.
    If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, follow your doctor's instructions .

    Prevention

    To help reduce your chances of getting pneumonia, take the following steps:
    • Use good hand-washing techniques.
    • Avoid contact with other ill people.
    • Get treatment for your chronic conditions.

    RESOURCES

    American Lung Association http://www.lungusa.org/

    National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/

    CANADIAN RESOURCES

    The Canadian Lung Association http://www.lung.ca/

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/index%5Fe.html/

    References

    Blasi F, Tarsia P, Aliberti S, et al. Chlamydia pneumoniae and mycoplasma pneumoniae. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2005;26:617-624.

    Cunha BA. The atypical pneumonias: clinical diagnosis and importance. Clin Microbiol Infect . 2006;12(Suppl)3:12-24.

    Cunha BA. Atypical pneumonias: current clinical concepts focusing on Legionnaires' disease. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2008;14:183-194. Review

    Donowitz GR, Mandell GL, eds. In: Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. London, England: Churchill Livingstone Inc; 2000.

    Goetz MB. Pyogenic bacterial pneumonia, lung abscess, and emphysema. In: Mason R, Broaddus V, Courtney M, Murray JF. Murray & Nadel’s Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. London, England: Elsevier; 2005.

    Pneumonia in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Pneumonia in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Types of Pneumonia. National Heart Lung Blood Institute (NHLBI) website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pnu/types.html . Updated March 1, 2011. Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Understanding Pneumonia. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/pneumonia/understanding-pneumonia.html . Accessed October 3, 2012.

    Schlossberg D. Mycoplasmal Infection. In: Russell C, Goldman L, Bennett J. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 22nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2004.

    Thibodeau KP, Viera A.J. Atypical pathogens and challenges in community-acqiured pneumonia. Am Fam Physician . 2004;69:1699-1706.

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