Viral pneumonia: what it is, symptoms, treatment and prevention


Viral pneumonia is a type of infection in the lungs that leads to inflammation of the respiratory system and results in the appearance of some symptoms, such as fever, shortness of breath and cough, which get worse over time. This type of pneumonia happens more often in people who have a weakened immune system, such as children and the elderly, especially.

The main viruses that cause this type of pneumonia are the viruses that cause colds and flu, such as Influenza type A, B or C, H1N1, H5N1 and the 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in addition to others such as parainfluenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus and adenovirus, for example, which can be carried in droplets of saliva or respiratory secretions that are suspended in a person’s air infected to another.

Although viruses related to viral pneumonia are easily transmitted from one person to another, the person does not always develop pneumonia, most often they develop the symptoms of a cold or flu, as the immune system is able to fight this virus. However, even if the risk of developing pneumonia is not high, it is important to take precautionary measures, such as avoiding close contact with the sick person and having good hygiene habits, washing your hands regularly.

Symptoms of viral pneumonia

Symptoms of viral pneumonia may appear a few days after contact with the virus, and worsen over the days, with the main signs and symptoms being:

  • Dry cough, which progresses to cough with transparent, white or pink phlegm;
  • chest pain and difficulty breathing;
  • Fever up to 39ºC;
  • Sore throat or by ear;
  • Rhinitis or conjunctivitis, which may accompany the symptoms.

In older people, symptoms of pneumonia can also include mental confusion, extreme tiredness, and a lack of appetite, even if there is no fever. In babies or children, it is also very common to experience very rapid breathing that causes the exaggerated opening of the wings of the nose.

Viral pneumonia differs from bacterial pneumonia in that it usually has a more sudden onset, produces a more transparent or white phlegm, in addition to having other signs of a viral infection, such as nasal congestion, sinusitis, eye irritation and sneezing, for example, however, it can be difficult to differentiate between the 2 types of infection without testing. However, it is important for the doctor to carry out tests to identify the causative agent of pneumonia and, thus, the treatment of pneumonia to be as effective as possible.

How to know if the baby has pneumonia

In the case of babies, parents may suspect pneumonia when the flu symptoms presented by the baby take a long time to pass or get worse throughout the week, such as fever that does not go down, constant cough, lack of appetite, rapid breathing and difficulty breathing, for example. example.

It is important that the baby is taken to the pediatrician so that tests are carried out and the diagnosis is concluded, initiating the appropriate treatment. In addition, it is important to have some care during the treatment of the baby, such as:

  • Make inhalations with saline 2 to 3 times a day or according to the pediatrician’s indications;
  • Encouraging the baby to breastfeed or eat, giving preference to fruit, breast milk or formula;
  • Give water to the baby;
  • Dress the baby according to the temperature, avoiding sudden changes in temperature;
  • Avoid using cough medicine that has not been indicated by the pediatrician, as they can facilitate the accumulation of secretions in the lung.

In the most serious cases, in which the baby does not want to eat, is short of breath or has a fever above 39ºC, the pediatrician may recommend hospitalization to receive oxygen, make medicine in the vein and receive saline while unable to eat.

How to confirm the diagnosis

To confirm the diagnosis of this disease, the doctor may request samples of respiratory secretions from the nose and throat, for analysis in the laboratory, which should ideally be collected until the 3rd day of the disease, but which can be collected until the 7th day after the onset of symptoms to identify the virus.

In addition, tests such as a chest X-ray are performed to assess the involvement of the lungs, and blood tests, such as a blood count and arterial blood gas analysis, to assess blood oxygenation, and thus verify the degree and severity of the infection. In any case of suspected pneumonia, it is advisable to go through a consultation with the general practitioner or pediatrician or pulmonologist, or go to the emergency room, to start the appropriate treatment and prevent the disease from worsening.

How is the treatment done?

Treatment for viral infections is guided by the doctor, and should be done with some guidelines such as:

  • Rest at home, avoiding going to school or work;
  • Good hydration, with water, tea, coconut water or natural juice;
  • Light diet, avoiding fatty foods.

In addition, treating viral pneumonia or a flu caused by the H1N1, H5N1, or the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) viruses, in people who are at higher risk of developing pneumonia, such as the elderly and children, also involves the use of antiviral drugs, prescribed by the general practitioner or pulmonologist, such as Oseltamivir, Zanamivir and Ribavirin, for example.

Treatment can be done at home, however when the person shows signs of severity, such as difficulty breathing, low blood oxygenation, mental confusion or changes in kidney function, for example, hospitalization may be necessary for medication in the vein and use of oxygen mask. Learn more about how viral pneumonia should be treated.

how to prevent

To prevent viral infections of any kind, it is very important to keep your hands clean, washing or using alcohol gel, whenever you go to public places, such as buses, shopping malls and markets, in addition to avoiding sharing personal objects, such as cutlery and cups. .

The flu vaccine, given annually, is also an important way to avoid infection by the main types of viruses.

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