Anyone suffering through a prolonged bout of walking pneumonia may eventually wonder, “Can you die from walking pneumonia?” Because “walking pneumonia” is a nontechnical layman’s term instead of a medical term, it’s necessary to explore the subject before answering the question.
What Is Walking Pneumonia?
“Walking pneumonia” is just a term used for any inflammatory lung infection that is mild enough that the infected person generally doesn’t seek medical attention and can function relatively normally during the course of the infection. While walking pneumonia is often caused by a viral infection, especially in those under 20 years of age, it’s most commonly caused by the organism M pneumoniae. This organism is neither a virus nor a bacterium, but a mycolasma that shares characteristics with both. Mycoplasmas have the basic form of a bacterium, but without the bactium’s cell wall. Pneumonia caused by M pneumoniae is also called mycoplasma pneumonia.
M pneumoniae is one of the most common causes of upper and lower respiratory infections in those under 40, especially in those between the ages of five and 20 who live in temperate climates. In summer months, over half of pneumonia infections are caused by M pneumoniae. It can take as long as three weeks for symptoms of M pneumoniae to appear, and they may never progress beyond those of a bad cold. Common symptoms of M pneumoniae include alternating fever and chills, fatigue, an unproductive cough, headache, and, in severe cases, pleurisy.
Treating M Pneumoniae
A healthy adult infected with M pneumoniae is likely to never seek medical treatment. If they do seek treatment, it’s most often for an unproductive cough that lingers for weeks. Although mycoplasmas are not typical bacteria, they do respond fairly well to most antibiotics, but an M pneumoniae infection can last for several weeks, even after the patient receives antibiotic treatment.
The Good News
While walking pneumonia may occasionally make you feel like death, almost all patients recover without serious complications. However, M pneumoniae is associated with acute chest syndrome in patients with sickle cell anemia and can cause severe pneumonia in children.
When to See a Doctor
Although walking pneumonia by definition implies a non-serious infection, anyone suspected of having any type of pneumonia who is under five, over 65, or who has a compromised immune system or serious underlying health condition should seek immediate medical attention.
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“Walking pneumonia: What does it mean? – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living – MayoClinic.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking-pneumonia/AN00137.