Pneumonia, a general term for an infection in the lungs, is classified into two types: bacterial and viral. Either type occurs when bacteria or viruses found in the nose and throat infect a baby’s lungs. Infants younger than 2 weeks old typically get pneumonia through an infection during delivery.
Both types of pneumonia can cause fever, fussiness, loss of appetite or poor feeding, and most commonly, a moderate to severe cough. But there are a few clues that your child’s pediatrician will look for to try to determine the difference.
Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia often come more suddenly and are usually more severe. Your baby might seem very ill, very quickly, with a high fever, poor feeding or lack of appetite, severe cough, and rapid breathing. Symptoms of viral pneumonia tend to develop more gradually and are typically less severe. Your baby might have a cold or cough that gets worse. It might be accompanied with a fever and possible vomiting or diarrhea.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in infants younger than 3 months. Other bacteria that can cause pneumonia include Mycoplasma pneumonia, Staphylococcus aureus, and Haemophilus influenzae. Newborns may also get pneumonia during delivery from group B streptococcus, a bacteria that commonly lives in a woman’s vaginal tract.
Common viruses that cause pneumonia include RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), influenza virus (the flu), and adenovirus.
Hospitalization is typically required for infants younger than 2 months old, especially if their fevers are high.
Depending on the type of pneumonia, your child’s treatment may vary. Your pediatrician may prescribe oral antibiotics, since they help to fight bacterial infection. Or, because antibiotics cannot treat viral pneumonia, the best treatment for your baby might be supportive care with nasal suctioning and plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Check with your doctor about the appropriate dose of acetaminophen or ibuprofen (for infants 6 months and older) to bring down a fever. Using a cool mist humidifier at night might also make your baby more comfortable.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, May 2020
- There are two types of pneumonia: bacterial and viral.
- Bacterial pneumonia is usually caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.
- Viral pneumonia is caused by viruses like RSV, influenza, and adenovirus.
- Treatment can include antibiotics, or simply rest and lots of fluids, depending on the type of pneumonia your baby has.