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Diseases A–Z


Viral pneumonia

What is viral pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection. Viral pneumonia is a lung infection caused by a virus (germ). Many different vuruses can cause viral pneumonia, including the flu (influenza) and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus, a virus that's common in children In children, RSV is a common cause of viral pneumonia.

Viral pneumonia is usually less serious than bacterial pneumonia. But viral pneumonia can be life-threatening in certain people:

  • very old and very young people
  • people who have weak immune systems from diseases like HIV, cancer, diabetes, and lung disease
  • pregnant women
Signs and symptoms of viral pneumonia

In viral pneumonia, symptoms tend to come on slowly. Common symptoms include:

  • coughing up small amounts of mucus
  • low-grade fever (but fever may be high if you have the flu)
  • tiredness
  • muscle aches
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • vomiting or feeling like you want to throw up (in some people)
Treatment of viral pneumonia

Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment. But some cases are more serious and need treatment in hospital. Antibiotic medicine is not used to treat viral pneumonia. That's because antibiotics only fight bacteria; they don't fight viruses.

In serious cases, doctors may treat viral pneumonia with antiviral medicine (antivirals), medicine that kills viruses.

If you have a serious case of viral pneumonia, you may be given special oxygen therapy and intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration (fluids are given through a needle in your vein).

If you have a mild case of viral pneumonia, you can take care of yourself at home. Keep a close eye on your symptoms. If you feel worse or you are not getting better, see your doctor. If you have trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number.

What can I expect?

Most cases of viral pneumonia get better without treatment after about one to three weeks. But serious cases can last longer and may need hospital care.

Preventing of viral pneumonia

You can reduce your risk of viral pneumonia by getting your flu shot every year in October. The flu (influenza) virus is a common cause of pneumonia and it's easily spread from person to person. Find out more about the flu shot and who should and should not be vaccinated.

In addition to getting your flu shot, there are other things you can do to reduce your risk of getting viral pneumonia: