An Overview of Viral Pneumonia: What is it?
Pneumonia is the inflammation of your lung tissue. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Viral pneumonia is a result of untreated flu. When left untreated, the viruses somehow reach your lungs causing inflammation and swelling of the airways. This prevents the smooth flow of air into your air sacs; thus, depriving them of oxygen.
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pneumonia following flu is the 8th leading cause of death in the USA.
Viral pneumonia is usually a mild disease and clears within a few days of infection. However, some cases of infection can become very severe and life-threatening. This is especially true for the elderly above 65 years, children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised patients.
Viral Pneumonia and Its Causes
The common causes of viral pneumonia include:
- Varicella zoster, which is the virus responsible for chickenpox
- Influenza - or the flu virus
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
Experts still do not know how these viral organisms can cause pneumonia, but they believe that the infection is transmitted when people touch an infected object or is being coughed onto the face by an infected person.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of viral pneumonia are caused by the inflammation and swelling of the airways blocking the passage of air. Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild, but you should bear in mind that it could become a severe condition in no time. Some of the common symptoms experienced by patients with viral pneumonia include:
- Fever with chills
- Productive cough
- Muscle aches and pains
- Weakness of the body
- Difficulty in breathing
Who is at risk of developing viral pneumonia?
Anyone is at risk of viral pneumonia, but the chances are higher in individuals with a weakened or compromised immune system. People have an increased risk of viral pneumonia if they have certain health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, liver or kidney disease, or HIV/AIDS. If you had a recent viral infection or a recent upper respiratory tract infection, then this will also put you at a higher risk of viral pneumonia.
How is viral pneumonia diagnosed?
When you first consult a doctor, they will take a detailed medical history from you, followed by a complete physical examination to determine the condition you are having. During the physical examination, your doctor will listen to your lung sounds. In cases of pneumonia, crackles or crepitation are heard on lung auscultation.
If the signs and symptoms fit to a diagnosis of pneumonia, your doctor will then order some tests to confirm the diagnosis. The commonly used to tests that help in the diagnosis of viral pneumonia include:
- Chest X-ray
- Complete blood count: An increased lymphocyte count means a viral infection, and a high neutrophil count means a bacterial infection. From this, the doctors will be able to distinguish between a viral and bacterial pneumonia.
- A sputum culture
- Nasal swab to check the viruses found in your respiratory tract.
- CT scan of the chest to assess lung function.
How is viral pneumonia treated?
A viral pneumonia is usually easy to treat. They usually disappear within just a few weeks. Depending on the causative virus, your doctor will start on an anti-viral medication. Antibiotics are not given in such a condition because antibiotics target bacteria and not virsuses. Other medication that may be given for viral pneumonia include cough medication, antipyretics, adequate rest, oxygen, plenty of fluids, and pain killers.