A Mycoplasma pneumoniae infection, more commonly known as "walking pneumonia," is a mild form of pneumonia that can affect people of all ages, including toddlers. The disease is not common in children under 4, unless your toddler is in preschool or daycare programs. This is due to how easily the infection travels from child to child as they interact throughout the day. While not as serious as more severe pneumonia, it's still important to have a basic understanding of the disease in case your toddler develops it.
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Walking pneumonia is caused by a bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae, or M. pneumoniae. The bacteria travels easily from close contact, such as from child to child while playing or from child to siblings or parents through close personal contact at home. The bacteria is inhaled into the respiratory system where it causes infection.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia are similar to the mild signs of regular pneumonia. Often times they may even be missed as the infection does not prevent the child from walking around or playing. The most common signs are sore throat, bronchitis and possibly ear infections. Your toddler can also develop a fever, congestion, headache, rash or a cough. Some children's symptoms may increase in severity as the infection progresses.
If your child is showing signs of walking pneumonia, the only way to be sure is through an examination by your doctor. After listening to your toddler's chest, and noting the symptoms, your doctor may order a specific blood test. This blood test searches for specific antibodies that are created in response to M. pneumoniae. If the antibodies are present, your doctor will make a diagnosis for walking pneumonia and present the appropriate treatment options. The infection may also be noticeable through a chest X-ray. New diagnosis techniques are also in the work to avoid drawing blood, such as through respiratory or throat samples, but as of 2011 the use of these tests are still limited, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Because walking pneumonia infections produce mild side effects, the infection is typically not treated with antibiotics. If symptoms progress to more serious signs, your pediatrician may prescribe antibiotics to fight the infection, such as erythromycin, azithromycin, or doxycycline. However, most children will recover even without the use of antibiotics, and the complication rates for walking pneumonia are very low, especially when compared to regular cases of pneumonia.