Understanding Multifocal Pneumonia: Symptoms And Causes

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What is multifocal pneumonia?

The lungs are a pair of air-filled, spongy organs that consist of many areas. To breathe, air must travel through the windpipe, also known as the trachea, which carries inhaled air into the lungs through hollow branches, called the bronchi.

These bronchi then divide into smaller and smaller branches which finally lead to the alveoli. These tiny air-filled sacs are vital for life, as they take oxygen from the air you inhale to the bloodstream.

Pneumonia is an umbrella term used to describe an infection of the lungs caused by inflammation. Pneumonia generally targets the lower parts of the lungs, such as the alveoli. The infection results in inflammation and/or fluid and pus buildup in the alveoli, leading to symptoms such as a cough, fever, breathlessness, or chills. 

Pneumonia can be classified in many ways, depending on the environment (hospital or community) or even what caused pneumonia (bacterial, viral, and fungal).

Additionally, the infection rates and severity of these classes can differ depending on the type of pneumonia acquired. The different pneumonia types can result in a range of disease severities, determined by the amount of inflammation in the lungs. In general, the more inflammation within the lungs, the more severe the infection.

One type of pneumonia is multifocal pneumonia, which can be defined as inflammation that affects more than one part of the lobes of the lungs and can either affect one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) of the lungs at one time.    

Causes of multifocal pneumonia 

Multifocal pneumonia can be caused by the same pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) that cause other types of pneumonia. What makes multifocal pneumonia different is how the illness presents in the lungs, with more than one site of infection and inflammation. 

In many cases, multifocal pneumonia is caused by viruses, such as COVID-19, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or the common flu. This is because viruses, like RSV, can cause similar types of inflammation that generally present in multiple areas of the lung or even in both lungs, whereas bacterial infections are likely to stay as unilateral infections. 

This does not mean that multifocal pneumonia cannot be caused by bacteria or fungi. Bacteria such as streptococcus pneumoniae or legionella pneumophila, and fungi such as pneumocystis pneumonia, coccidioidomycosis, or cryptococcus are all capable of causing multifocal pneumonia. 

To properly test for the cause of multifocal pneumonia, your doctor will take a sample of sputum (thick mucus produced by the lung) and test for any microbes, which should help to identify the type of bacteria or fungus causing the infection. 

Risk factors

Pneumonia has several risk factors, the main ones being the following: 

  • Age above 65 years old

  • Infancy

  • Smoking 

  • Alcoholism 

  • Immunosuppressive conditions 

  • Conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)

  • Cardiovascular diseases 

  • Cerebrovascular diseases 

  • Renal diseases 

  • Liver diseases 

  • Dementia 

  • Diabetes


Multifocal pneumonia shares the same symptoms as all other types of pneumonia and can be just as mild or severe. However, due to multifocal pneumonia in different areas of the lungs, the illness can sometimes be more powerful, resulting in hospitalization.

The main symptoms of pneumonia can be different depending on the age of the patient, as well as other factors. For example, symptoms in elderly patients are different from those for children. 

However, the main set of symptoms are as follows: 

  • Cough

  • Chest pain 

  • Fever

  • Fatigue 

  • Loss of appetite 

  • Headache 

  • Nausea 

  • Abdominal pain 

  • Shortness of breath 

  • Sputum production (mucus produced by the lungs)

  • Chills.

In most cases, and if caught early, patients should be able to recover at home with sufficient rest, hydration, and antibiotics (only for bacterial pneumonia). However, some cases may result in hospitalization, with assisted ventilation sometimes needed. 

Treatment for multifocal pneumonia 

Depending on the severity of the multifocal pneumonia infection, as well as the cause of pneumonia, the treatment plan can differ greatly. Firstly, for treatment to occur, a proper diagnosis must be made to determine the severity and the cause of the infection. 

Diagnosing pneumonia can be achieved through various techniques such as a chest X-ray, blood test, sputum culture, pulse oximetry, chest CT scan, bronchoscopy, or a pleural fluid culture.

Once a diagnosis and cause have been determined, a treatment plan will be formed, depending on the severity and type of pneumonia. For most people who show mild symptoms, treatment will revolve around home rest and hydration, with an appropriate medication prescribed only if needed.  

If the pneumonia is bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed. If the infection is viral, some antiviral medications may be prescribed, such as Tamiflu. As for fungal pneumonia, antifungal medications will be utilized to clear the infection. 

In most cases, people who have few underlying medical conditions and demonstrate none of the typical risk factors will typically clear the infection quickly. 

However, for elderly and extremely young patients, or those with risk factors such as a compromised immune system, multifocal pneumonia can be more severe and may require hospitalization and a longer recovery period. In extreme cases, multifocal pneumonia can cause a loss of life.


In rare cases, and if you have certain risk factors, complications can present after pneumonia. Some of these complications include: 

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome.

  • Lung abscesses present as pockets of pus or fluid that form inside or around the infected tissue of the lung.

  • Respiratory failure requiring ventilation and hospitalization.

  • Sepsis depends on the cause of pneumonia and is more common in bacterial pneumonia.

The lowdown 

Multifocal pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that affects more than one area of the lungs and causes similar symptoms to other types of pneumonia. Multifocal pneumonia, if diagnosed early, can be treated with a relatively short recovery period. However, this type of pneumonia tends to result in a more severe infection that may require hospitalization.


How long does it take to recover from pneumonia?

The recovery time for pneumonia generally depends on the severity of the disease affecting the person. For most people who experience mild pneumonia, recovery is around 1 to 2 weeks. However, it may take a bit longer to feel 100%. For others experiencing a more severe illness, it can take much longer to recover.  

What does multifocal mean when it comes to pneumonia?

Multifocal pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that is caused by multiple presentations of inflammation and infection in different areas of the lungs. It can be present in only one lung or both at the same time. 

What bacteria, fungi, and viruses cause multifocal pneumonia?

Multifocal pneumonia is not only caused by viruses such as influenza but can also be caused by bacteria such as streptococcus pneumoniaeor legionella pneumophila and fungi like pneumocystis pneumonia, coccidioidomycosis, or cryptococcus. Other viral causes include respiratory syncytial virus and common cold or flu viruses.

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