During the winter months, respiratory illnesses become more common, including pneumonia. You may have seen an illness called white lung pneumonia show up in the news once or twice, and before you freak out, we can tell you that it sounds a lot worse than it is.
White lung pneumonia is not a type of pneumonia or even a medical term; it is just a way many media outlets have referred to cases of pneumonia. The name comes from the white areas on the lungs often seen during a pneumonia x-ray, which can happen during a bacterial, viral, or even fungal pneumonia infection.
In any case, pneumonia can be serious, especially in children and the immunocompromised. So, here's what you should know about white lung pneumonia.
What is white lung pneumonia?
The words "white lung pneumonia" began popping up in the news towards the end of 2023 after an outbreak of pneumonia cases among kids in Ohio. However, doctors have urged people to stop referring to the outbreak as "white lung" because it is not a medical term, per the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Towards the fall and winter months, there is usually an uptick in respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, flu, RSV, COVID-19, and pneumonia, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Dr. Mary Caserta, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases, told the University of Rochester Medical Center that people may have started using the phrase "white lung" because of the white spots on your lungs that may show up during an x-ray that signal a pneumonia infection. These areas are air sacs filled with fluids, which just means you are dealing with an infection.
“The phrase ‘white lung’ is not a medical term or condition," Dr. Caserta told the University of Rochester Medical Center. Calling cases of pneumonia "white lung disease" or white lung pneumonia only causes alarm.
What are the symptoms of white lung pneumonia?
It's important to know that white lung pneumonia is not different from regular pneumonia; it is just a different name being used.
According to the American Lung Association (ALA), some symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Fever and chills
- Trouble breathing
- Low appetite
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Coughing, possibly releasing mucus
- Chest pain, especially while breathing
Symptoms can vary depending on the type of pneumonia causing the infection. Viral pneumonia typically does not require much treatment. However, bacterial pneumonia is often more severe than viral pneumonia, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Is white lung pneumonia contagious?
Some types of pneumonia are contagious. According to the National Institute of Health, you catch pneumonia by inhaling droplets from an infected person, and sometimes from touching your mouth or nose after touching a surface with germs. You're also at a higher risk of pneumonia if you regularly breathe in polluted or toxic air.
Bacterial and viral pneumonia are both contagious, while fungal pneumonia is not. The contagious period for bacterial pneumonia usually ends two days after taking antibiotics, and you are without a fever. For viral pneumonia, the contagious period ends after you stop experiencing symptoms, per the ALA.
In short, "white lung pnemonia" is just regular pneumonia. If you're experiencing symptoms you believe could be pneumonia, you should consult with a doctor.