Radiographic and CT Features of Viral Pneumonia

Radiographics. 2018 May-Jun;38(3):719-739. doi: 10.1148/rg.2018170048.


Viruses are the most common causes of respiratory infection. The imaging findings of viral pneumonia are diverse and overlap with those of other nonviral infectious and inflammatory conditions. However, identification of the underlying viral pathogens may not always be easy. There are a number of indicators for identifying viral pathogens on the basis of imaging patterns, which are associated with the pathogenesis of viral infections. Viruses in the same viral family share a similar pathogenesis of pneumonia, and the imaging patterns have distinguishable characteristics. Although not all cases manifest with typical patterns, most typical imaging patterns of viral pneumonia can be classified according to viral families. Although a definite diagnosis cannot be achieved on the basis of imaging features alone, recognition of viral pneumonia patterns may aid in differentiating viral pathogens, thus reducing the use of antibiotics. Recently, new viruses associated with recent outbreaks including human metapneumovirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus have been discovered. The imaging findings of these emerging pathogens have been described in a few recent studies. This review focuses on the radiographic and computed tomographic patterns of viral pneumonia caused by different pathogens, including new pathogens. Clinical characteristics that could affect imaging, such as patient age and immune status, seasonal variation and community outbreaks, and pathogenesis, are also discussed. The first goal of this review is to indicate that there are imaging features that should raise the possibility of viral infections. Second, to help radiologists differentiate viral infections, viruses in the same viridae that have similar pathogenesis and can have similar imaging characteristics are shown. By considering both the clinical and radiologic characteristics, radiologists can suggest the diagnosis of viral pneumonia. ©RSNA, 2018.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia, Viral / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Radiography, Thoracic / methods*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*