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Viral Pneumonia

What is viral pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is a lung infection caused by a virus. Many viruses can cause viral pneumonia, such as influenza. You can get a virus by breathing it in or by touching something that has the virus on it. You can also develop viral pneumonia if a virus in your body travels to your lungs.

What are the signs and symptoms of viral pneumonia?

Unlike bacterial pneumonia, the symptoms of viral pneumonia develop slowly over several days. Your signs and symptoms may be different if you are older than 65 years. You may be confused or have aches and pains instead of the following more typical symptoms:

  • Cough, which may or may not bring up mucus

  • Fever above 100.4°F (38°C) or chills

  • Shortness of breath, rapid breathing, or wheezing

  • Muscle pain and tiredness

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Headache

How is viral pneumonia diagnosed?

Your caregiver will check your blood pressure, pulse, and blood oxygen level. He will listen to your heart and lungs. He will ask if you have received vaccinations. Tell him if you have been around anyone who is sick or if you have traveled recently. You may also need any of the following:

  • Chest x-ray: Caregivers use x-rays to check for signs of infection, such as swelling and fluid around your lungs.

  • CT scan: This is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your chest. Caregivers use the pictures to check for signs of lung damage or infection. You may be given dye before the CT scan so your caregiver can see the pictures better. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish. You may also be allergic to the dye.

  • Mucus culture: Your caregiver may swab your throat or the inside of your nose to get a mucus sample. He may ask you to cough mucus into a cup. The mucus is tested for viruses that cause pneumonia.

  • Blood tests: Your blood may be tested for other infections and also to find out which virus caused your pneumonia.

How is viral pneumonia treated?

Most people with viral pneumonia are treated at home. Young infants, older adults, and people with other health problems may need to stay in the hospital. Viral pneumonia usually goes away in 3 to 7 days with treatment. You may need any of the following:

  • Antiviral medicine: This is given to prevent or treat an infection caused by a virus.

  • Steroids: Steroid medicine may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier. Do not stop taking this medicine without your caregiver's OK. Stopping on your own can cause problems.

  • Over-the-counter medicine: You can buy pain and fever medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is safe for you, and how much to take. Follow directions carefully. These medicines can cause serious problems if you use too much.

What increases my risk for viral pneumonia?

  • You are older than 65 or younger than 5.

  • You have a long-term medical condition such as heart failure, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.

  • You have a lung disease, such as asthma or COPD, or you have recently had a respiratory infection.

  • You smoke cigarettes.

  • You are pregnant or have a weak immune system.

  • You have not been vaccinated, or you live in close quarters with others.

How can I manage viral pneumonia?

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you: Smoking increases your risk of lung infections and pneumonia. Smoking also makes it harder for you to get better after you have a lung infection. Talk to your caregiver if you want to quit smoking. He may prescribe nicotine replacement medicine or tell you how to find a program to help you quit.

  • Get plenty of rest: Rest often while you recover. Slowly start to do more each day.

How can I prevent viral pneumonia?

  • Avoid the spread of germs:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when there is no soap and water available.

    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.

    • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.

    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.

  • Clean surfaces: Clean doorknobs, countertops, cell phones, and other surfaces that are touched often.

  • To prevent influenza (flu), all adults should get the influenza vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. The pneumococcal vaccine is given to adults aged 65 or older to prevent pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia. Adults aged 19 to 64 years who are at high risk for pneumococcal disease also should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It may need to be repeated 5 years later.

  • Other vaccines: If you have immunization records, show them to your caregiver. You may need other vaccines or booster shots to prevent pneumonia and other infections.

What are the risks of viral pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia can progress to bacterial pneumonia, which is a more serious illness. You could have respiratory failure and need a ventilator to help you breathe. You could develop sepsis, which is a life-threatening blood infection. Viral pneumonia can be life-threatening, especially in young children, older adults, and people with other health problems.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your symptoms are not getting better or are getting worse, even after treatment.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You are confused and cannot think clearly.

  • You have more trouble breathing or your breathing seems faster than normal.

  • You have chest pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.