Pneumonia Types Viral

A common disease of the lungs, viral pneumonia is not usually a serious health concern, and most people recover from the disease. However, viral pneumonia in children and the elderly is more serious, and, in the wrong circumstances, the disease can be life threatening.

Viral Pneumonia Causes

Viral pneumonia, one of the milder forms of pneumonia, generally causes far less severe infections than bacterial pneumonia. Some of the many viruses capable of causing viral pneumonia include:

  • adenoviruses
  • cytomegalovirus
  • hantavirus
  • herpes/varicella virus
  • influenza A
  • influenza B
  • parainfluenza
  • respiratory synctial virus
  • rhinovirus.

Viral pneumonia caused by herpes/varicella viral agents is uncommon, as it usually only occurs in people already infected with chickenpox.

Viral Pneumonia Symptoms

Viral pneumonia symptoms take longer to develop and are generally less severe than bacterial pneumonia symptoms. While onset of bacterial pneumonia symptoms requires a doctor’s attention within days of infection, viral pneumonia symptoms can be present for weeks before worsening symptoms require medical care.

Common viral pneumonia symptoms include:

  • chills
  • cough with small amount of mucus production
  • fatigue
  • fever lower than 102°F
  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • muscle aches
  • painful or difficult breathing
  • sore throat
  • sweating.

Some less common symptoms include:

  • clammy skin
  • nausea
  • stiff joints
  • vomiting.

Viral Pneumonia in Children

Viral pneumonia, especially the type known as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is the most common type of pneumonia seen in children and infants. Outbreaks of RSV are common in the spring and can spread rapidly through daycares and preschools.

Viral Pneumonia Risk Factors

The very young and the elderly have an increased risk of viral pneumonia. Other people with a heightened risk of developing viral pneumonia include:

  • individuals with impaired immune systems
  • organ transplant patients
  • people who are on immune suppressing medication
  • people with HIV and other immune weakening diseases.

Complications of Viral Pneumonia

While most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and treatable, this condition can result in heart failure, liver failure and respiratory failure, particularly in the elderly and others with weakened immune systems. Because of the serious nature of these complications, seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • constant vomiting
  • coughing up blood
  • excessive weakness
  • severe chest pain
  • shortness of breath at rest.

Viral pneumonia also weakens the immune system, which can put some at risk of also developing bacterial pneumonia.

Viral Pneumonia Treatments

Unlike bacterial pneumonia, viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotics. Most cases of viral pneumonia are treated at home with rest and plenty of fluids. Over the counter medication may help relieve viral pneumonia symptoms such as coughing, aches and fever.

Severe viral pneumonia may require hospitalization. Viral agents that cause serious viral pneumonia (such as the herpes/varicella viruses) may require antiviral medication as part of the course of treatment. Oxygen is administered when viral pneumonia affects breathing.

Hospitalization is also required for viral pneumonia complications. Fortunately, the bulk of viral pneumonia cases do not require hospital stays. In most cases, viral pneumonia symptoms start dissipating in one to three weeks.


eMedicineHealth (updated October 22, 2005). Viral pneumonia. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from the eMedicineHealth Web site.

Health Central (n.d.). Viral pneumonia. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from the Health Square Web site.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (updated February 20 2008). Viral pneumonia. Retrieved March 25, 2008, from the Medline Plus Web site.