Viral Pneumonia Overview
Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation of the lungs. It can be in just one part of the lungs, or it can involve many parts. Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms. The severity of pneumonia depends on which organism is causing the infection and the immune response of the individual to that infection. Viral pneumonias are usually not very serious, but they can be life-threatening in very old and very young patients and in people whose immune systems are weak.
Two of the most publicized viral infections causing pneumonia are SARS and H1N1 swine flu. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is caused by a virus in the coronavirus family, had a major outbreak in 2003 with an estimated 8,000 cases and 750 deaths. For the latest information on this illness, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web site.
Swine flu (H1N1) was associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in 2009. Early reports came from cases in Mexico, with a very high mortality. Many cases were also reported in the U.S. However, early identification and treatment helped reduce the death rate significantly.
Viral Pneumonia Causes
Viral pneumonia can be caused by influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the herpes or varicella viruses as well as those that cause the common cold (parainfluenza, coronaviruses, and adenoviruses).
Depending on which virus is involved, the symptoms and severity and treatment varies.
Influenza A and B usually occur in the winter and spring. In addition to the respiratory symptoms, you can get headache, fever, and muscle aches. Your chance of catching the flu decreases significantly (but is not totally prevented) if you get immunized ("flu shot") every year.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is most common in the spring. It usually infects children and can cause outbreaks in day-care centers and hospital nurseries.
Herpes, or varicella, pneumonia is rare unless you are infected with chickenpox. This tends to be a more common complication in adults who get chickenpox.
Adenovirus and parainfluenza viral pneumonias are often accompanied by cold symptoms such as runny nose and pinkeye (conjunctivitis).
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/23/2016
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