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Walking pneumonia: What does it mean?

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 8, 2023.

"Walking pneumonia" is an informal term for a common bacterial condition. It produces milder symptoms that appear more gradually than in other types of more serious pneumonia.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough.
  • Fever.
  • Sore throat.
  • Headache.
  • Runny nose.
  • Ear pain.
  • Chest pain from coughing.

Symptoms usually appear within two to three weeks of becoming infected and can continue for weeks. A cough could continue for months.

With walking pneumonia, you may feel like you have a cold. But symptoms are usually mild, so you likely won't need bed rest or a hospital stay. You may not feel the need to stay home from work or school. So you may be out walking around. That's how the illness got its name.

While anyone can be infected with walking pneumonia, it's most common in children, especially those ages 5 to 15 years old. This illness is often brought home by young children who get it at school and then infect family members.

Walking pneumonia is contagious. It's spread through airborne droplets from close contact, such as coughing, sneezing or speaking. People with lowered immunity may get more severely ill. You can be contagious long after you no longer have symptoms.

Your symptoms may be mild enough that you don't see a health care provider. But if you do, your health care provider is not likely to prescribe antibiotics unless you have a more serious form of pneumonia or another severe infection.

Possible complications of walking pneumonia include:

  • A more serious form of pneumonia.
  • Worsening of asthma symptoms.
  • Swelling and irritation of the brain, known as encephalitis.
  • Hemolytic anemia, a type of anemia caused by the breakdown of too many red blood cells.

To help prevent walking pneumonia, wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer. Cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don't have a tissue, bend your arm toward you and cough or sneeze into your elbow — not your hands.

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