What is “walking” pneumonia?
“Walking” pneumonia is a mild form of pneumonia (an infection of the lungs). This non-medical term has become a popular description because you may feel well enough to be walking around, carrying out your daily tasks and not even realize you have pneumonia.
Most of the time, walking pneumonia is caused by an atypical bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae, which can live and grow in the nose, throat, windpipe (trachea) and lungs (your respiratory tract).
Scientists call the walking pneumonia caused by mycoplasma “atypical” because of the unique features of the bacteria itself. Several factors that make it atypical include:
- Milder symptoms
- A natural resistance to medicines that would normally treat bacterial infections
- Often mistaken for a virus because they lack the typical cell structure of other bacteria
Are there other types of atypical pneumonias?
Yes. Other types of atypical pneumonia include:
- Chlamydia pneumonia
- Legionella pneumonia (Legionnaires’ disease)
How is walking pneumonia different from “regular” pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia differs from typical pneumonia in several ways, including:
- Walking pneumonia is a milder form of pneumonia.
- Walking pneumonia usually does not require bed rest or hospitalization.
- Walking pneumonia is usually caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Typical pneumonia is most commonly caused by Strepococcus pneumonia or the influenza (flu) virus or rhinovirus.
How common is walking pneumonia?
Mycoplasma pneumoniae accounts for 10 to 40 percent of the cases of community-acquired pneumonia (pneumonia contracted outside a healthcare setting).
Walking pneumonia can occur at any time of the year although it occurs most often in the fall and winter.
Is walking pneumonia contagious? If so, how is it spread and who is most at risk?
Yes, walking pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae is contagious (spread through person-to-person contact). When an infected person coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets containing the bacteria become airborne and can be inhaled by others who are nearby.
The infection can be easily spread in crowded or shared living spaces such as homes, schools, dormitories and nursing homes. It tends to affect younger adults and school-aged children more than older adults.
The risk of getting more severe pneumonia is even higher among those who have existing respiratory conditions such as:
How long am I contagious with walking pneumonia?
If you have walking pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, you can be considered contagious from two to up to four weeks before symptoms appear (called the incubation period). During this time, you will not realize you are contagious and spreading pneumonia. Once the symptoms start, you remain contagious until the symptoms end.
What causes walking pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia is most commonly caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria.
What are the symptoms of walking pneumonia?
Symptoms of walking pneumonia include:
- Sore throat (pharyngitis)
- Feeling tired (fatigue)
- Chest pain
- Mild chills
- Low-grade fever
- Persistent cough that can be dry or produce mucus
The symptoms of walking pneumonia may come on slowly, beginning one to four weeks after exposure. During the later stages of the illness, symptoms may worsen, the fever may become higher, and coughing may bring up discolored phlegm (mucus).