What is Walking Pneumonia?
Walking pneumonia also known as atypical pneumonia is a bacterial infection which affects both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Mycoplasma pneumoniae, a very small bacteria is responsible for most cases of this infection. The bacteria is often found in the nose, throat, trachea and lungs where it lives, grows and multiplies. Mycoplasma has the ability to change size and shape in any environment because its cell wall is not rigid. This type of pneumonia is termed ‘atypical’ after the causative micro organism as scientists discovered that it is resistant to penicillin and other antimicrobial agents. This trait of Mycoplasma is also attributed to its lack of a rigid cell wall.
What are the types of walking pneumonia known to exist today?
Children are usually the first ones to contact this disease. As they play with other children in school, the infection circulates. There are three types of pneumonia known to be in existence.
Mycoplasma pneumonia: This is caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae and is not as serious as other types of walking pneumonia. People suffering from this infection are usually able to carry on with their daily activities without being hospitalized. The symptoms are like that of cold or flu. In rare cases, serious complication may arise from this infection and will require medical attention.
Chlamydophilia pneumonia: This is caused by the bacteria Chlamydophilia (Chlamydia) pneumoniae. It affects more school-age children than any other age group. Though gotten from personal contact, symptoms do not appear immediately unlike other common respiratory tract infections.
Legionella pneumonia: This is also known as Legionnaires’ disease. It is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by Legionella pneumophila. It is the most severe of all three types of walking pneumonia. In some cases, respiratory failure and death may arise due to this infection. Thankfully, unlike the other two types, Legionnaires’ disease is not spread through personal contact with infected persons.
Though anyone can develop walking pneumonia, the following people are more at risk of getting infected; people who smoke, adults over 65 of age, children under 2 years, people with severe respiratory problems, those with weak immune system and people living or working in any location with walking pneumonia outbreak (schools, hospitals, nursing homes, etc.).
Symptoms of Walking Pneumonia
The symptoms of walking pneumonia are not immediately felt by infected individuals. They emerge slowly between 1-4 weeks of exposure to the bacteria. However, once symptoms manifest, it gets very serious in less than one week.
- Breathing problem with chest pain
- Muscle and joint pains
- Sore, itchy or dry throat
- Fatigue (severe weakness)
- Persistent headache
- Continuous cough that does not subside
- Flu-like symptoms (chills, fever, cold sweat)
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
These symptoms may vary based on the type of walking pneumonia (causative bacteria). An individual with compromised immune system suffering from walking pneumonia may be exposed to other infections like ear and skin infection.
Watch this video to learn more on symptoms of Walking Pneumonia
Causes of Walking Pneumonia
When a person infected with Mycoplasma pneumonia coughs or sneezes, airborne droplets containing the causative bacteria are released into the environment. This bacteria is inhaled by individuals in such environment. The upper and lower respiratory tract of susceptible persons are attacked by the bacteria and they are infected. The infection is easily spread in enclosed and crowded environments like schools and dormitories. Young adults and children are more prone to this infection than older adults. About 2 million cases are reported yearly in the United States.
Chlamydophilia pneumonia can be gotten from personal contact, when an infected individual coughs or sneezes. Though anybody is at risk of getting infected, school children are at higher risk of infection.
Legionnaires’ disease is spread through a different channel (not by personal contact). Legionella bacteria is found in hot tubs, fountains, hot water tanks or cooling towers. People develop this disease when they inhale water vapour or mist containing this bacteria. Individuals with strong immune system are less likely to develop Legionnaires’ disease even if they inhale vapour containing the bacteria. Travelers who board cruise ships or lodge in hotels are at a higher risk of getting infected. 8,000-18,000 patients are hospitalized in the United States each year due to Legionnaires’ disease.
Treatments for Walking Pneumonia
To know if you have walking pneumonia, visit your doctor for proper diagnosis. You may have to undergo some chest x-rays to be certain. Urine and specimens from your respiratory tract will be tested if your doctor suspects Legionnaires’ disease.
Mycoplasma pneumonia often clears up on its own in few weeks. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your symptoms are severe. Antibiotics will hasten your recovery. The following antibiotics are strongly recommended for the management and quick treatment of all three types of walking pneumonia;
- Macrolide antibiotics are used to treat both children and adults. They include Zithromax and Clarithromycin. Some Mycoplasma strains have adapted to this antibiotics therefore they are no effective against them anymore.
- Fluoroquinolones, which include Ciprofloxacin and Levofloxacin. They are not recommended for children.
- Tetracycline can also be used by both children and adults. Examples include Doxycycline and Tetracycline.
People suffering from Legionnaires’ disease may need to be hospitalized. They will be treated with antibiotics in the hospital. Recovery may take few days though full recovery will normally take between 2-4 months.
A patient could contact walking pneumonia even after treatment. There are no vaccines to prevent this disease. However, common lifestyle adjustments can be made to prevent its spread.
- Cover your nose and mouth with tissue or handkerchief when you cough or sneeze. If these items are not available, sneeze or cough inside your elbow or sleeves. Try not to sneeze inside your hands as you are bound to touch things with them, increasing your chances at getting infected or worse still pass on the infection to other people. Throw used tissues into a waste basket after use.
- Wash your hands more often with warm water and soap, especially if you are around infected people. If soap and warm water are out of reach, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.