Is Pneumonia Contagious? What you need to know and how to protect yourself

Many vaccines can prevent contagious forms of pneumonia, not just the pneumonia vaccine.

Though pneumonia is often thought of as a single illness, it comes in many different forms. While each type can cause dangerous inflammation in your lungs–the result of an infection that leads to fluid or pus collecting in the lungs–the specific type of pneumonia can determine the risk of severity, symptoms, and even treatment options.

The type of pneumonia may also reveal whether it is contagious. Yes, some types of pneumonia can be transmitted between people. We tapped some infectious disease experts to get more information on those types–and what you need to know about how they present and how to avoid them. Here are the essential facts about contagious forms of pneumonia.

What is pneumonia again?

Just a quick refresher: Pneumonia is an infection that affects one or both lungs, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Pneumonia can cause the lungs’ air sacs, known as alveoli, to become clogged with fluid or pus. This can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as a severe cough, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.

Pneumonia can cause severe and even fatal complications. David Cutler, MD, a family medicine doctor at Providence Saint John’s Health Center Santa Monica, Calif., tells Health that pneumonia can be fatal. It used to be the number one cause of death in the United States and around the globe. Since the invention of antibiotics and vaccines against pneumonia, it hasn’t been that this is no longer true.


Is pneumonia contagious?

Yes, it is possible. This is where certain types of pneumonia play a role. Because it all depends on the type of pneumonia you have or someone you know.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pneumonia can be caused by bacterial or viral infection. The viral and bacterial causes are the most infectious. (Fungal pneumonia, according to the American Lung Association, is typically seen in people with compromised immune systems and occurs after they’ve been exposed to large amounts of certain fungi, usually in soil or bird droppings.)

Both are contagious, but there are differences between viral and bacterial pneumonia. Here’s how to tell the difference.

Bacterial pneumonia

According to the NHLBI, pneumonia can be caused by bacteria in adults. Although many types of bacteria can cause bacterial pneumonia in adults, Streptococcus pneumonia remains the most common cause in the United States. However, bacterial pneumonia can also be caused by Mycoplasma pneumonia or Legionella pneumophila.

Reynold Panettieri (MD), director of Rutgers University’s Institute for Translational Medicine Science, says that you can either get bacterial pneumonia by itself or as a secondary infection to a cold or flu. Health.

Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial pneumonia. After just a few days, John E. McGinniss MD, a pulmonologist at Penn Medicine, tells Health, you shouldn’t become contagious.

Viral pneumonia

The NHLBI says that viral pneumonia can happen as a direct result of viruses that infect your airways and lungs, like the flu (which is caused by the influenza virus) or the common cold (rhinovirus). The most common cause for viral pneumonia in children is a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Colds and flu can also cause viral pneumonia. Dr. McGinniss explains that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) can also cause pneumonia.

Dr. McGinniss states that viral pneumonia is more contagious than other forms of pneumonia. He says that it is essential to practice good hand hygiene and wear a mask around someone with viral pneumonia. The ALA says that most viral pneumonia doesn’t have the same severity as bacterial pneumonia, and they do not last as long. (The exception is flu-like pneumonia, which can prove fatal and very serious in some instances.

According to the NHLBI, viral pneumonia can be treated with antiviral medication. However, they are not effective against every virus that causes it.

RELATED: Is Natural Immunity sufficient to protect against the Delta Variant, or do I still need the Vaccine?

What are the best ways to catch pneumonia?

It can be spread by bacteria or viruses when pneumonia is caused either by bacteria or viruses. People can share drinks with infected people, sneeze openly, and even touch the tissue of someone with pneumonia. These are mainly cases of community-acquired pneumoencephalitis, which is when someone gets pneumonia in the community. According to the CDC, this is a rare form of pneumonia.

Anyone can get pneumonia, according to the ALA, but some people are at a greater risk for having severe pneumonia than others. These include:

  • Senior citizens 65 years and older
  • Children are younger than two years.
  • People with chronic lung diseases like COPD or cystic fibrosis.
  • People with serious chronic illnesses, like heart disease, diabetes, and sickle cell disease.
  • People who have a weak immune system due to HIV/AIDs, chemotherapy, organ transplants, long-term steroid usage, or chemotherapy.
  • People who have difficulty swallowing
  • People who have had a recent respiratory infection such as a cold, laryngitis, or flu.
  • Patients who were recently hospitalized.
  • Smokers.
  • People who use drugs or alcohol.
  • Exposure to chemicals, pollutants, and toxic fumes (including secondhand smoke).

Is there a way to avoid getting contagious pneumonia?

This is where vaccines can help. There are a few that can reduce your risk, provided your doctor approves.

  • Flu vaccine. McGinniss states that the flu vaccine is very effective in preventing bacterial pneumonia. This is because influenza can lead to secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia. It can also help prevent viral pneumonia caused by the influenza virus, he says.
  • Pneumococcal vaccines: Two vaccines are available to prevent pneumonia from the pneumococcus bacteria. This is the most common bacteria that causes the disease. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccination (PCV13) and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine(PPSV23) are recommended. This vaccine is recommended for people over 65 years old, those with chronic illnesses, and smokers. Dr. Panettieri states that the current vaccines are very efficient.
  • The Hib vaccine Hib stands for Haemophilus influenza type b, which can cause meningitis and pneumonia. The NHLBI recommends giving it to all children younger than five years old in the United States.
  • The COVID-19 vaccine: Although vaccines are still new, it has been shown that they can lower the risk of getting a severe version of the virus. This could lead to severe complications such as pneumonia.

Experts stress the importance of getting vaccinated and keeping your chance of contracting pneumonia from rising.

If you have symptoms of pneumonia, you should call your doctor to schedule an appointment. They can examine you and diagnose the problem.

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