Viral pneumonia

Viral pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs induced by a viral infection.


Viral pneumonia is an infection of the lungs developing as a complication of viral infection that varies by severity. The disease is mild and usually self-limiting in otherwise healthy individuals, whereas in those whose immune system is weakened, the disease tends to be more severe and may be even fatal. It is considered that viral pneumonia constitutes almost 30% of pneumonia cases.

In general, viral infection outbreaks happen in late autumn, during winter and in early spring. 


  • Influenza viruses type A, B and C are the most common cause of viral pneumonia;
  • Respiratory syncytial virus affects primarily infants and children, though its incidence in adults is also high;
  • Parainfluenza virus (PIV) is known to induce bronchiolitis in infants and cause viral pneumonia in children;
  • Adenovirus pneumonia occurs relatively rarely;
  • Human coronaviruses have become notorious lately as they have caused several deadly outbreaks – severe acute respiratory syndrome, Middle East respiratory syndrome and COVID-19 disease;
  • Human rhinoviruses are the typical agents causing common cold both in children and adults;
  • Human metopneumavirus (hMPV) has been recognized not so long ago and its incidence remain uncertain;
  • Varicella zoster infection may also affect the lungs, however, such presentation is rare;
  • Cytomegalovirus infection is usually asymptomatic in healthy individuals, though this infection is very dangerous for recipients after solid organs or stem hematopoietic stem cell transplantation;
  • Herpes simplex virus infection of the lower respiratory tract also occurs mainly in individuals with suppressed immunity;
  • Pneumonia can also develop as a complication of measles;

Risk factors

Anyone can acquire virus infection and even develop pneumonia, however, some people are more likely to suffer from viral pneumonia than the others and tend to have a more severe course of the disease: 

  • Individuals older than 65 years or infants and kids younger than 2 years;
  • Those who have chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes mellitus and some other;
  • Individuals with weaken immune system due to HIV, immunosuppressive treatments or have any other inborn or acquired immunodeficiency;
  • Smokers are also more likely to develop viral pneumonia;


Right-sided pneumonia on X-raySymptoms of the disease develop rather quickly with acute onset of fever associated with profuse sweating, chills and muscle aches. The involvement of the lungs leads to the occurrence of cough, in viral infection, it is usually dry, though later cough becomes wet with excretion of the green or yellow sputum. Wheezing is characteristic for kids. 

Overall, symptoms of viral pneumonia may include the following depending on the type of virus and immune response:

  • Nonproductive cough to wet cough;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Wheezing;
  • Fever and chills;
  • General malaise;
  • Weakness;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Muscle pain (myalgia);
  • Headache;
  • Runny nose (rhinitis);
  • Sore throat;
  • Chest pain may be present if the pleura is involved;


  • Complete blood count is necessary to assess the body’s response to infection;
  • Chest X-ray is performed to estimate the lungs inflammation. In severe cases chest CT may be also considered;
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and ELISA antigen testing are used to detect the causative virus;
  • C-reactive protein is elevated in viral pneumonia and can be used to evaluate treatment efficacy;


Treatment of viral pneumonia is mainly symptomatic. Even though several drugs act on the viruses their efficacy in the treatment of viral pneumonia is controversial. Cytomegalovirus infection is treated with gancyclovir. Oseltamivir and zanamivir are effective for influenza if they are administered promptly.

Most cases of viral pneumonia resolve spontaneously within a few days up to several weeks. However, sometimes the disease is so severe that may require hospital admission, mechanical ventilation, and intensive care. Sometimes a secondary bacterial infection may complicate viral pneumonia and then treatment should also include antibiotics.

In mild cases, a person doesn’t require hospitalization and be treated at home.

  • Drink plenty of water, tea, juices, etc.
  • Stay in bed and avoid going out and contacting with other people;
  • Take antipyretics (acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Analgin) if you have a fever;
  • Painkillers can be taken to relieve throat soreness, headache and muscle ache;
  • Drugs that loosen mucus are administered to mitigate the cough;


  • Vaccination against flu every year is essential to prevent influenza.
  • Personal hygiene should be maintained and washing your hands regularly, especially before your meals.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and face with unwashed hands.
  • If you are ill to prevent infecting the others cover your mouth and nose with a tissue while coughing or sneezing and don’t forget to wash your hands afterward.

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