Children's Hospital Colorado

Pneumonia in Children

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What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Pneumonia is a secondary illness that develops because the viral or bacterial illness was there first.

Often pneumonia begins after a cold, with symptoms beginning after 2 or 3 days of a cold or sore throat.

The length of time between exposure and feeling sick from pneumonia, called the incubation time, varies depending on the type of virus or bacteria causing the infection. For instance, if a child develops pneumonia from a cold caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), it takes 4 to 6 days for symptoms to appear; for the flu virus, symptoms start after 18 to 72 hours.

Pneumonia caused by bacterial infections can last 1 to 2 weeks with appropriate antibiotics. In general, symptoms should improve about a week after starting antibiotics. Because there are no medications to treat viral infections, symptoms from viral pneumonia may last longer.

Call your doctor immediately if your child has any of the signs and symptoms of pneumonia, but especially if he or she:

  • Is having trouble breathing or is breathing abnormally fast
  • Has a bluish or gray color to the fingernails or lips
  • Has a fever of 102ºF (38.9ºC), or above 100.4ºF (38ºC) in infants under 6 months of age

What causes pneumonia?

Most cases of pneumonia are caused by common viruses that cause cold, flu and other respiratory infections such as adenovirus, rhinovirus, influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and parainfluenza virus.

The viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia are contagious and are spread by sneezing, coughing or contact with contaminated surfaces like shared drinking glasses or utensils, used tissues or even doorknobs and faucets. However, a person who becomes infected by someone with pneumonia will not necessarily develop pneumonia themselves.

Who gets pneumonia?

Anyone can get pneumonia, but some kids are at higher risk than others. Children who are more likely to get pneumonia include:

  • Children with chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung disorders
  • Children with asthma
  • Infants born prematurely
  • Children with a compromised immune system, such as those who are HIV positive

Get to know our pediatric experts.

Jennifer Dunn, NP

Jennifer Dunn, NP

Certified Family Nurse Practitioner

Patient ratings and reviews are not available Why?

Donna Curtis, MD, MPH/MSPH

Donna Curtis, MD, MPH/MSPH

Infectious Disease - Pediatric, Pediatrics

Patient ratings and reviews are not available Why?

Christina Papantonakis, MD

Christina Papantonakis, MD

Pulmonology - Pediatric, Pediatrics

Heather Hoch De Keyser, MD

Heather Hoch De Keyser, MD

Pulmonology - Pediatric, Pediatrics