Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, virus or fungi. The severity of this disease depends on the specific microorganism causing it. Viral pneumonia is usually not very dangerous, but it can be fatal in very young or very old patients and in people with a compromised immune system.
Causes of viral pneumonia
Viral pneumonia can be caused by influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, herpes virus and those that cause common cold, like adenoviruses and parainfluenza.
Influenza is common in the winter and spring, RSV in the spring, while herpes and varicella pneumonia are rare in people not infected with chickenpox. Adenovirus and parainfluenza are associated with seasonal common colds.
Symptoms of viral pneumonia
People who have viral pneumonia will most likely have a low grade fever, meaning less than 102° F. Fatigue, tiredness and muscle aches are also to be expected. Viral pneumonia is characterized by coughing with small amounts of expectorated mucus.
The symptoms are not necessarily severe and many people go on for weeks before seeing a doctor. Medical attention is required in case of difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe cough with blood and vomiting.
Diagnose and treatment
The medical exam in case of suspected viral pneumonia includes checking the temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels. The doctor will also use the stethoscope to listen to the lungs and maybe do some x-rays. Blood tests are rarely done as they are not very useful for diagnosing pneumonia.
In most cases, especially with influenza A and B, the diagnose can be done clinically, meaning based on the symptoms. In case of RSV doctors may use swab to analyze the nasal secretions.
As for the treatment, unlike other types of pneumonia, viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics. However, antibiotics can be used to prevent bacterial infections, because the lungs are weakened.
Doctors usually recommend bed rest and plenty of fluids, as well as over-the-counter medications that help against pain, cough and fever. The patient needs plenty of rest and it is recommended to take sick days from work or school. Only if it is well rested and protected from stress, the body will be able to fight the virus.
In case doctors suspect that pneumonia is caused by influenza virus, they may prescribe anti-flu medications, like amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir and zanamivir. All except zanamivir come in capsules, and zanamivir is a powder that should be inhaled directly into the lungs.
Varicella pneumonia is often a serious disease and requires treatment with acyclovir, taken orally or administered intravenously.
RSV, parainfluenza and adenovirus do not require specific antiviral medications and the treatment consists of alleviating the symptoms.