What is viral pneumonia?

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: John J Oppenheimer, MD  more...
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Viral pneumonia is a subset of the pneumonitides, which were at one time called atypical pneumonias. In the past, all pneumonias were labeled atypical if a bacterial pathogen could not be identified with Gram staining and if the pneumonia did not respond to antibiotics.

Many viral pneumonias have overlapping clinical presentations with each other and with bacterial pneumonia—and may occur together with bacterial pneumonia—making diagnosis on purely clinical grounds difficult or impossible. [2] A number of rapid tests to determine viral etiologies have now been developed, and their use in the emergency department (ED) has allowed bedside diagnosis of the etiology of viral pneumonia.

An accurate and early etiologic diagnosis is important because specific therapies are used against certain viruses (see Treatment and Management). Even with currently available tests, however, in some series a causative microorganism could not be identified in 50-80% of symptomatic patients.

Agents used to treat cases of viral pneumonia include acyclovir, ganciclovir, and immunoglobulin. (See Medication.)

For more information, see Medscape’s Pneumonia Resource Center and Influenza Resource Center.

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