Infections often affect the upper respiratory system, causing sore throat, runny nose, cough and fever. However, when the infection affects the lungs, which are part of the lower respiratory system, you could develop pneumonia. Pneumonia can occur in anyone, but it is most likely to affect people with weak immune systems such as the elderly, young children, chronic smokers, and alcoholics.
You may be concerned about contracting pneumonia if someone you know has it. Here is some information about the different causes, symptoms, and treatments for pneumonia and how you can avoid getting it.
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
Pneumonia is a respiratory infection and is commonly caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. These types of pneumonia can be contagious. However, in some cases, it may also result from inhaled chemical or toxic substances that affect the lungs. In these less common cases, pneumonia is less likely to affect other people not exposed to the chemical substances or to spread from person to person.
Pneumonia could be contagious if the viruses or bacteria causing the lung infection contaminate another person through droplet infection, the most common form of transmission. When an infected person coughs or sheds the bacteria or viruses in the air, anyone who inhales these pathogens may catch the infection and develop a respiratory tract infection within a few days. However, your risk of getting an infection may depend on your immune system and the type of microorganisms involved. Some pathogens are highly contagious and people with weakened immune function are more likely to catch the disease.
How Long Is Pneumonia Contagious?
Bacterial pneumonia becomes less contagious when a sick individual has taken antibiotic treatment for about 1-2 days. However, for some bacteria, such as those causing tuberculosis, it may take at least 2 weeks of treatment before a person becomes less contagious.
People with viral pneumonia become less contagious after their symptoms recede. However, coughing may persist for several weeks even if one is not contagious anymore.
Different Kinds of Pneumonia and Whether They Are Contagious
Bacteria can cause different types of pneumonia such as streptococcal pneumonia (most common in adults), chlamydophila pneumonia, and H. influenza type Bpneumonia (most common in children).
Common signs and symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:
- High fever
- Cough with colored phlegm
- Chest pain when breathing deeply or coughing
- Rapid breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
Is pneumonia contagious? Yes, and bacterial pneumonia can become serious, causing severe symptoms in those affected.
This occurs when you have a mild bacterial pneumonia, causing symptoms similar to those of a common cold, such as:
- Low-grade fever
- Persistent dry cough (worse at night)
- Fatigue /tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
Is walking pneumonia contagious? It is less serious than a full-blown infection, but it is still possible to spread the bacteria through droplet infection.
Viral pneumonia is more common in young children. It may get better within 3 weeks, but can increase their risk of developing a secondary bacterial pneumonia.
Symptoms are similar to flu, with a dry cough, fever, and headache. Symptoms get worse within the first 2 days. Adults may develop sore throat, muscle pains and loss of appetite.
Causes of viral pneumonia include the flu virus and the respiratory syncytial virus.
Is pneumonia contagious? Yes, viruses can easily spread in the air from a sick individual to other people. In fact, viruses are the more common cause of respiratory infection compared to bacteria and fungi.
There are three common types of fungi that can cause pneumonia:
Most people inhale fungi but do not get sick. However, with a weak immune system, you may develop fungal pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, dry cough, fatigue and shortness of breath. Is pneumonia contagious? In this case no. However, the symptomsare often more severe because of the individual’s impaired immune function.
Aspiration pneumonia develops when a person inhales food or foreign objects into their lungs, causing the entry of bacteria to the lower respiratory tract. It is a life-threatening condition that requires aggressive treatment, but not contagious.
What to Do If You Have Pneumonia
Consult your doctor if you experience persistent fever (102°F /39°C or higher), persistent cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or if there is pus in your phlegm.
People who are at high risk of developing pneumonia should see a doctor right away. They include:
- Children below 2 years old
- Adults over 65 years of age
- People with weakened immune systems or underlying disease
- Patients receiving chemotherapy or medications that suppress immune system functions
Note: Pneumonia can be life-threatening especially in patients who have chronic lung or heart problems.
If you do not have any risk factors mentioned above and your symptoms are not severe, you may be able to receive treatment at home. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics after the diagnosis is confirmed through a chest-ray. When you have finished your full course of antibiotics, another chest x-ray may be taken to confirm successful therapy.
How to Prevent Pneumonia
Apart from knowing the answer to “is pneumonia contagious”, there are also some preventative measures you can take.
Some people may need vaccination to protect them from developing pneumonia, especially if they belong to the high-risk groups, such as elderly people, young children, and health professionals exposed to infected patients. Ask your doctor about getting a vaccination if you are concerned about getting the infection.
Just like other types of infections, pneumonia can be prevented by practicing good hygiene, which includes:
- Hand washing, particularly before handling food and after touching your mouth/nose/face.
- Always covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. And wash your hands afterwards to prevent spreading germs.
- Avoid sharing cups, utensils, and other personal items.