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Is Pneumonia Contagious? Unraveling the Spread of the Infection

Apr 15, 2024

Common Illnesses Treatment

Is Pneumonia Contagious? Unraveling the Spread of the Infection

Pneumonia is a contagious lung infection that contributes to over 1,000,000 hospitalizations and 50,000 deaths annually. Though it affects all age groups, it is hazardous for vulnerable populations such as young children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause the infection, and if left untreated, pneumonia can lead to severe complications, such as breathing difficulties, sepsis, pleural effusion, lung abscess, and even death. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are crucial in managing the disease.

This blog discusses important insights into pneumonia to help you protect yourself from its potentially devastating consequences.

Understanding the Various Types of Pneumonia and Their Causes

Pneumonia is classified depending on how you contracted the infection and what caused it. The various types of pneumonia are -

Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP)

It refers to pneumonia that is acquired outside of a healthcare facility. The leading causes of CAP include:

  • Bacteria

    Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, Haemophilus influenza, and Legionella.

  • Viruses

    COVID-19, common cold viruses, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

  • Fungi

    Pneumocystis jirovecii, Cryptococcus, and Coccidioides.

  • Protozoa


Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP)

It can be contracted while receiving medical care in a healthcare facility or hospital. HAP is typically more severe than CAP as it is caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Consequently, HAP can lead to severe illness and may be more challenging to treat.

Healthcare-Associated Pneumonia (HCAP)

It can be contracted during a stay in a long-term care facility like an outpatient, extended-stay clinic, or nursing home. Similar to HAP, it is commonly caused by bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP)

It is a potential risk for individuals who require respiratory support through a ventilator or breathing machine while hospitalized, particularly in the intensive care unit. VAP can be caused by similar bacteria found in CAP and drug-resistant strains commonly associated with HAP.

Aspiration Pneumonia

It occurs when liquids, solid food, saliva, or vomit enter the lungs through the trachea (windpipe). Failure to cough up these substances can lead to lung infections.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

The symptoms of pneumonia vary depending on the underlying cause, with acuteness ranging from mild to severe. Infants, young children, and elderly individuals may experience distinct symptoms.

Common Symptoms of Pneumonia

  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

Symptoms of Pneumonia in Infants and Young Children

  • Pale skin
  • Abnormal crying
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Noisy breathing or grunting sound with breathing
  • Limpness
  • Irregular bladder and bowel movements

Symptoms of Pneumonia in Adults

  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Restlessness or fussiness
  • Chills and fever
  • Lack of energy
  • Sweating/flushed skin
  • General discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Loss of appetite

Symptoms of Pneumonia in People Above 65 Years

  • Fatigue
  •  Sudden change in mental state
  •  Low appetite

Besides, older adults with weakened immune systems may experience mild or less noticeable symptoms, such as shortness of breath and cough.

Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia

  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • High fever (up to 105 F or 40.55 C)
  • Sweating or chills
  • Coughing up green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Confusion or altered mental state
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chest or abdominal pain, especially while deep breathing or coughing
  • Bluish lips, skin, or nails (cyanosis)

Symptoms of Viral Pneumonia

Viral pneumonia symptoms gradually develop, with a few symptoms similar to bacterial pneumonia. Other distinct symptoms include:

  • Excessive weakness or tiredness
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Dry cough

Understanding the Contagious Nature of Pneumonia

Pneumonia itself is not infectious. However, the bacteria and viruses responsible for causing pneumonia can be contagious. For example, the flu is highly infectious and can potentially lead to pneumonia. Nevertheless, not everyone who contracts the flu will develop pneumonia.

One of the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. This bacterium can be transmitted from one person to another through various means, such as touching infected surfaces or through coughing and sneezing.

Contrary to this, pneumonia caused by fungi is not contagious, as viruses and bacteria do not spread from person to person.

Diagnostic Tests for Pneumonia

Your healthcare provider will review your medical history and symptoms and perform a physical exam, which includes listening to your lungs with a stethoscope to check your breathing and determine whether there is any mucus accumulation.

If your provider suspects any abnormality, they may order the following tests:

  • Imaging Tests

    A chest X-ray or CT scan is recommended to see pictures of your lungs to look for signs of infection.

  • Blood Tests

    Your blood sample is tested in the lab to determine the underlying cause of your pneumonia.

  • Sputum Test

    Your saliva is tested in a lab to look for signs of an infection and what causes it.

  • Pulse Oximetry

    Your blood oxygen is measured to see how well your lungs work.

How Long Is Pneumonia Contagious After Treatment?

If your pneumonia diagnosis is positive, your provider will start treatment based on the cause and severity of the symptoms.

Treatments may include:

  • Pain Relievers

    Prescription painkillers will be given to treat your body aches.

  • Cough Suppressants

    Prescription syrups will be given to ease your cough.

  • Antibiotics

    To treat bacterial pneumonia.

  • Antifungal Medications

    To treat fungal pneumonia.

  • Antiviral Medications

    While viral pneumonia usually goes away on its own, antivirals may be prescribed to reduce the severity and longevity of sickness.

  • Oxygen Therapy

    You will be given external oxygen if you have breathing difficulty from pneumonia. If you start to receive antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia, you will remain contagious for the next one or two days. In the case of viral pneumonia, the contagious period diminishes as the symptoms begin to fade, especially fever. Remember, individuals who have had pneumonia may experience occasional coughing for a few weeks, even if they are not contagious.

Prevention: Is Pneumonia Contagious Before Symptoms Appear?

Bacterial or viral pneumonia can be contagious before the onset of symptoms. So, the best way to prevent pneumonia is to vaccinate against the bacteria and viruses that cause it.

Here are some vaccinations for pneumonia

  • Pneumococcal Vaccines

    Pneumovax23 and Prevnar13 protect against pneumonia bacteria. These vaccines are specifically recommended for particular age groups or individuals with a higher susceptibility to pneumonia. You must consult your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable vaccine.

  •  Vaccinations Against Viruses

    Vaccination against the flu and COVID-19 can minimize your risk of viral pneumonia.

  • Childhood Vaccinations

    Ask your children's healthcare provider about additional necessary vaccines. Various vaccines for children can effectively protect against infections from bacteria and viruses that may result in pneumonia.

Other ways to prevent pneumonia

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before handling food and eating and after using the restroom.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid close contact and sharing items with infected individuals.

Final Thoughts

As pneumonia is a life-threatening infection, don't take it lightly. If you or your loved one experiences any symptoms, seek prompt medical care. Early intervention and treatment are essential in preventing complications and speeding up recovery, ensuring optimal health and well-being.

Get Reliable Pneumonia Treatment at Metro Urgent Care

Metro Urgent Care offers reliable treatment for pneumonia. Our team of experienced medical professionals is dedicated to providing high-quality care for our patients. Don't hesitate to contact us for immediate assistance if you have chest pain, cough, fever, or difficulty breathing.

Content Sources:

American Lungs Association.

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