“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 walking pneumonia caused by mycoplasma “atypical” because of the unique features of the bacteria itself. Several factors that make it atypical include:
Yes. Other types of atypical pneumonia include:
Walking pneumonia differs from typical pneumonia in several ways, including:
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.
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:
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.
Walking pneumonia is most commonly caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia include:
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).
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them and if any other family members or people you regularly interact with are also ill with similar symptoms. He or she will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal breath sounds. Your doctor may order chest X-rays to see if there is an infection in your lungs. Your blood or mucus might be tested to determine if your pneumonia is caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae, another bacteria, virus or fungus.
Walking pneumonia is usually mild, does not require hospitalization and is treated with antibiotics (if your doctor thinks bacteria is causing your symptoms). Several types of antibiotics are effective. Antibiotics that are used to treat walking pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae include:
Often, over-the-counter medications can also be taken to help relieve symptoms of nasal congestion, cough and loosen mucus buildup in the chest. If you have a fever:
Unfortunately, no vaccines are available to prevent walking pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Even if you have recovered from walking pneumonia, you will not become immune, so it is possible to become infected again in the future.
Tips for preventing walking pneumonia include:
Most people with walking pneumonia will feel better after a few days on antibiotics. Your cough might continue for a few weeks.
© Copyright 1995-2020 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.
This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 09/10/2019