Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Atypical pneumonia refers to pneumonia caused by certain bacteria, including Legionella pneumophila, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and Chlamydophila pneumoniae. Atypical pneumonia is also called “walking pneumonia” because the symptoms can be very mild and people may not know that they have pneumonia.
The bacteria causing pneumonia due to mycoplasma and chlamydophila are usually spread from person-to-person through infected airborne respiratory droplets created by coughing and sneezing. Mycoplasma pneumonia usually affects people younger than 40 years of age. It is commonly spread in crowded environments, such as in households, schools and places of work, more often during winter than other seasons. Chlamydophila pneumonia occurs year round, however, and accounts for 5 to 15% of all pneumonias. Outbreaks of Legionella pneumonia have been associated with exposure to aerosols from contaminated warm water supplies, such as found in hot water tanks, cooling towers, hot tubs, and parts of the air-conditioning systems in large buildings. Soil and water in the environment may also serve as sources of the bacteria.
Chills, cough, fever, and shortness of breath are common symptoms in atypical pneumonia. The symptoms are usually mild and although they will gradually improve, it may take more than a month for them to go completely away. Chest pain with breathing or coughing, headache, lost of appetite, tiredness and fatigue, muscle aches, and sweating are also seen. Ear pain, eye pain, sore throat and rash may occur during acute illness with mycoplasma pneumonia.
Symptoms can be variable and more severe with Legionella infections compared to Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila pneumonia. Coughing up bloody mucus, mental confusion, and diarrhea may occur. A higher death rate is seen.
A diagnosis is made from the medical history, physical examination, and blood, urine and sputum tests. A chest x-ray may be needed to differentiate atypical pneumonia from acute bronchitis. Bronchoscopy may also be done for serious illnesses. In bronchoscopy, a lighted tube passed through the nose or mouth is used to see inside lungs.
People with atypical pneumonia are advised to drink plenty of fluids to help loosen respiratory secretions and to get a lot of rest. Fever and discomfort may be controlled with aspirin (WARNING: do not give aspirin to children), nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen) or acetaminophen.
People with atypical pneumonia are treated with a course of antibiotics for 2 weeks or more, although some mild cases are not treated. Atypical pneumonia may not respond to the antibiotics commonly used to treat other kinds of community-acquired bacterial pneumonia.
Severe atypical pneumonia can mean a hospital stay where antibiotics are given through a vein (intravenously), and supplemental oxygen can also be given.
Contact the following sources: