Viral pneumonia (patient information)

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Viral pneumonia


What are the symptoms?

What are the causes?

When to seek urgent medical care?


Treatment options

Where to find medical care for Viral pneumonia?

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Possible complications

Prevention of Viral pneumonia

Viral pneumonia On the Web

Ongoing Trials at Clinical

Images of Viral pneumonia

Videos on Viral pneumonia

FDA on Viral pneumonia

CDC on Viral pneumonia

Viral pneumonia in the news

Blogs on Viral pneumonia

Directions to Hospitals Treating Viral pneumonia

Risk calculators and risk factors for Viral pneumonia

Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editors-In-Chief: Priyamvada Singh, MBBS [2]


Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus.

What are the symptoms of Viral pneumonia?

Symptoms of viral pneumonia often begin slowly and may not be severe at first. The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

  • Cough (with some pneumonias you may cough up mucus, or even bloody mucus)
  • Fever, which may be mild or high
  • Shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath (may only occur when you climb stairs)

Other symptoms include:

What causes Viral pneumonia?

Viral pneumonia is more likely to occur in young children and older adults, because their bodies have a harder time fighting off the virus. Viral pneumonia is most often caused by one of several viruses:

People who are at risk for more serious viral pneumonia often have a weakened immune system, including:

  • Adult HIV/AIDS patients
  • Babies who are born too early
  • Children with heart and lung problems
  • People receiving chemotherapy for cancer, or other medications that weaken the immune system.
  • Organ transplant recipients


Persons with suspected pneumonia should have a complete medical evaluation, including a thorough physical exam and a chest x-ray -- especially since the physical exam may not always distinguish pneumonia from acute bronchitis or other respiratory infections. Depending on the severity of illness, other tests may be done, including:

Treatment options

Antibiotics do not treat viral pneumonia. Medication only works against influenza pneumonia. These medications are called antivirals. Treatment may also involve:

  • Increased fluids
  • Oxygen
  • Use of humidified air

A hospital stay may be necessary to prevent dehydration and to help with breathing if the infection is serious. You are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if you:

  • Are older than 65 years or a young child
  • Are unable to care for yourself at home, or are unable to eat or drink
  • Have another serious medical problem, such as a heart or kidney problem
  • Have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better
  • Have severe symptoms

However, many people can be treated at home. You can take these steps at home:

  • Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Do not take cough medicines without first talking to your doctor. Cough medicines may make it harder for your body to cough up the extra sputum.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
  • Get a lot of rest. Have someone else do household chores.

What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?

Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment within 1 - 3 weeks, but some cases are more serious and require hospitalization.

Possible complications

More serious infections can result in respiratory failure, liver failure, and heart failure. Sometimes, bacterial infections occur during or just after viral pneumonia, which may lead to more serious forms of pneumonia.

When to seek urgent medical care?

Call your health care provider if symptoms of viral pneumonia develop.

Where to find medical care for Viral pneumonia?

Directions to Hospitals Treating Viral Pneumonia

Prevention of Viral pneumonia

Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, diapering a baby, and before eating or preparing foods. Don't smoke. Tobacco damages your lungs' ability to ward off infection. Vaccines may help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions.

  • A drug called palivizumab (Synagis) is given to some children under 24 months old to prevent pneumonia caused by respiratory syncytial virus.
  • Flu vaccine prevents pneumonia and other problems caused by the influenza virus. It must be given each year to protect against new virus strains.

If your immune system is weak, stay away from crowds. Ask visitors who have a cold to wear a mask.

Alternative Names

Pneumonia - viral; "Walking pneumonia" - viral


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