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Viral pneumonia

Alternative names

Pneumonia - viral


Viral pneumonia is an inflammation (irritation and swelling with presence of extra immune cells) of the lungs caused by infection with a virus. See also respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza .

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung that affects 1 out of 100 people annually. Viral pneumonia can be caused by one of several viruses, including influenza, parainfluenza, adenovirus, rhinovirus, herpes simplex virus, respiratory syncytial virus, hantavirus, and cytomegalovirus.

Most cases of viral pneumonia are mild and get better without treatment, but some cases are more serious and require hospitalization. People at risk for more serious viral pneumonia typically have impaired immune systems and include HIV patients, transplant patients, young children (especially those with heart defects), the elderly, and people taking medications such as steroids to suppress their immune systems to treat autoimmune disorders.


  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Muscular stiffness and aching
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
Additional symptoms that may be associated with this disease:
  • Skin, clammy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Joint stiffness

Signs and tests

  • Sputum culture
  • Blood tests for antibodies to specific viruses
  • Chest X-ray
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Open lung biopsy (only done in very serious illnesses when the diagnosis cannot be made from other sources)


Antibiotics are not effective in treating viral pneumonia. Some of the more serious forms can be treated with antiviral medications. Other supportive care for viral pneumonia includes use of humidified air, increased fluids, and oxygen.. Hospitalization may be necessary to prevent dehydration and to help with breathing if the infection is serious.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most episodes of viral pneumonia improve without treatment within 1-3 weeks, but some episodes last longer and cause more serious symptoms requiring hospitalization.


More serious infections can result in respiratory failure, liver failure, and heart failure. Sometimes bacterial infections begin during or just after viral pneumonia that can cause more serious forms of pneumonia.


Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if symptoms of viral pneumonia develop.


Vaccines are available for influenza virus and respiratory syncytial virus for people at high risk of these forms of viral pneumonia.

Update Date: 7/30/2002

Christopher Parsons, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT