Your doctor says “walking pneumonia” is the diagnosis for the achy, exhausted, yucky feeling you’ve experienced for a few days. But don’t take the finding lightly and head out the door for your after-work walk. You may feel well enough to return to work, but you might want to take a few days off to rest. Walking pneumonia is not life-threatening, but it is not a condition you should take lightly.
Caused by a bacterial or environmental infection of the lungs, walking pneumonia is contagious. The condition is similar to bacterial pneumonia, which can lead to hospitalization, but less severe in its symptoms.
Traditional Pneumonia: The Serious Kind
Doctors define pneumonia as an infection of the lungs by pathogens including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other respiratory agitators found throughout nature. The symptoms are severe and can last several weeks. They’re similar in variety to a sinus infection or severe cold:
- phlegmy cough
- fatigue and soreness
- sinus congestion
The primary difference between a cold and pneumonia is the severity of the signs. Pneumoniais intense, magnifying the symptoms, leaving the patient feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, oftentimes unable to get out of bed.
Walking Pneumonia: Have Infection, Will Travel
The term “walking pneumonia” was first coined in the 1930s, to suggest its relatively slight impact compared to better-known forms of pneumonia. At the time (decades before modern antibiotics), a pneumonia diagnosis required hospitalization in virtually all cases. Today, walking pneumonia is more officially known as “atypical pneumonia” because it is not spread by the same kinds of pathogens as traditional, bacterial pneumonia.
Highly contagious, the walking pneumonia bacteria is transmitted mostly by inhaling and ingesting sinus or other bodily fluid from an infected person – for example, breathing air after someone nearby has sneezed or coughed. But the disease’s incubation time is slow: symptoms can take up to three weeks to develop. Patients with the infection remain contagious for about ten days.
Most cases develop around late summer and early fall. Though close contact is believed necessary to contract it, widespread outbreaks happen every several years.
By Michael Kabel