Daniel, 7, is my neighbour's son. We often leave at the same time and exchange 'good mornings' in the elevator. He is a bright boy, one of the leaders of the pack of children that raises a ruckus every evening in the condo! However, for the past few weeks, he seems a bit tired and dragging. His mum and I happened to have a chat yesterday. She is worried about him. He had a fever yesterday and is tired with a sore throat.
Daniel has walking pneumonia.
What is walking pneumonia?
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If you have not heard the term yet, walking pneumonia is an infection of the lungs which is a bit milder than other types of pneumonia. Here, the child is able to do his daily activities, although he is tired, hence the term. It is caused by a group of viruses and bacteria.
The most common cause of walking pneumonia is mycoplasma - a type of atypical bacteria. It is the most common cause of pneumonia in school-going children and young adults. However, it rarely affects children younger than 5, except when they contract it from their elder siblings. In adults, it also causes community-acquired pneumonia. It also causes pneumonia in patients who are admitted to the hospital for something else.
How does it look like?
The common symptoms of walking pneumonia may look like a milder version of flu. The infection spreads from child to child through droplet infection - sneeze and cough. It takes 1 to 3 weeks for the pathogen to elicit any symptoms. After 2-3 weeks, like Daniel, your child may experience
- Low-grade fever
- Sore throat
- Wheeze if he has asthma
- Fatigue, but not enough to confine him to bed
- A cough (dry or with phlegm)
- Ear infection
From the symptoms, the infection does not seem severe. However, in a few children, it may cause life-threatening conditions like swelling of the brain. Add the fact that it spreads so easily, makes me and many other parents worry about it. In fact, it often spreads in schools and camps, and in the USA, there is a community-wide epidemic every 4 to 7 years.
Dealing with walking pneumonia
If you have a child in that age group, he is at a risk of getting this infection. And, it is also easy to not take it seriously as your child does not look seriously ill. And that is why most parents send their children to school despite being infected with this. Also, your child is not going to get a lifelong immunity after an infection.
So, if you spot your child with the symptoms, take him to your GP. He will do some tests, take X rays, and may prescribe your child some antibiotics.
After the visit to the GP, ensure that your child
- Relaxes: He needs plenty of rest. Let him catch some sleep. If he is not sleepy, give him some light books to read. You can put on some music or even podcasts. Don't let him watch TV, or for that matter, take every screen away from him.
- Has plenty of fluids. Give him water, and if needed, ORS. Avoid glucose drinks or juices as this may cause diarrhoea. Soups are ideal as they will provide him with some relief from the symptoms.
- Takes his medicines. A full course of antibiotics is essential. So ensure that he takes his meds.
If, the symptoms worsen, contact your doctor. In addition, your child might need some medical help if he has
- Shortness of breath
- High fever
- chest pain
If this happens, don't wait. Go to the hospital immediately.
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In children, infections pass on from one to another very easily. It is partly because they spend time with each other in much closer contact than adults. However, the main reason is that they may not practice hygiene as adults do.
Teach your child how to wash hands properly. He should wash his hands before and after every meal, toilet visits (even if it is just a short break), after playing outside. When he comes home from school or the playground, encourage him to wash both his hands and feet.
To prevent infections like walking pneumonia, ask your child to cover his nose whenever he sneezes or coughs. If every child does that, he will not infect others. The used tissues should be disposed in a bin, and not used again and again. If he uses a handkerchief, wash it daily.
These small things will help prevent outbreaks of many diseases.
To sum it up
- Walking pneumonia in school-going children is most commonly caused by mycoplasma
- It is a droplet infection - it spreads in schools by uncovered coughing and sneezing
- The child will be tired, may have symptoms like a milder version of Flu
- It is generally mild but may become life-threatening
- If it is bacterial, antibiotics are needed
- Ensure that he gets plenty of rest and fluids
- Teach him common hygiene practices
Source: CDC, University of Rochester Medical Center.
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