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Is Pneumonia Contagious?

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • 4 Min Read
  • Fact Checked

Pneumonia is a lung infection that affects the tubes (bronchus) or terminal part of the lungs i.e alveoli. It can range from a mild infection to severe life-threatening disease. One of the major questions about the condition is, is Pneumonia contagious? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, a few types of Pneumonia are contagious – however, the spread can be prevented by taking some precautionary measures.

What is Pneumonia?

Air enters our body through our nostrils, passes through the pharynx and windpipe, enters tube-like structures called bronchi and bronchioles, and ends in alveoli where the exchange of gases takes place. The tubes or bronchi/bronchioles and alveoli have a fluid lining which helps in easy passage of air but when there is an infection or inflammation, the fluid secretions increase along with changes in the structure of the wall leading to less airway entry and also damage of alveoli. This eventually leads to breathing difficulty and Pneumonia.

Depending on the area involved pneumonia can be referred to as Bronchopneumonia where the tubes with/without alveoli are involved or Lobar Pneumonia where a particular lobe is affected. Furthermore, Pneumonia is divided into bacterial, viral, and fungal Pneumonia depending on the causative organism. Pneumonia can affect anyone and cause complications if left untreated. 

To answer the questions is pneumonia contagious more accurately – bacterial and viral pneumonia is contagious. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets carrying the causative organism enter the air around us and can be inhaled by other people. Also, organisms can be present on objects handled by the infected person and infection can occur when an uninfected person touches these objects and then touches their own mouth or nose.

Another question often asked about the transmission of pneumonia is can pneumonia be transmitted by kissing? The answer is yes, it can be transmitted but not as much as inhaling respiratory droplets. Chemical Pneumonitis can not spread from person to person as this is due to chemicals – this type of pneumonia is caused by inhaled toxic substances. Fungal Pneumonia on the other hand is non-contagious as it is caused by inhalation of spores from the environment. 

Causes and Symptoms of Pneumonia

Our respiratory system has defense mechanisms that clear out the disease-causing organisms. But,  when our defense mechanisms fail like in smokers or those that have a weakened immune system due to chronic diseases, one can get infected with Pneumonia causing organisms. Sometimes the organism can be virulent enough to cause Pneumonia in a healthy individual person as well. 

Symptoms of Pneumonia can be mild to severe. Mild symptoms often mimic flu-like illness:
– Fever with chills
– Cough with sputum production
– Fatigue
– Myalgia
– Shortness of breath
– Chest pain or chest discomfort
– Loss of appetite
– Weakness 

Complications of Pneumonia

– The lung infection can develop into sepsis which means the organism spills into the blood and causes infection in other organs too.
– There can be severe involvement of lungs because of which the person may need a ventilator for respiratory support.
– The part of the lung that is infected can cause fibrosis and become permanently non-functional.
– Pneumonia can complicate into lung abscess which leads to the accumulation of pus
– Fluid can accumulate leading to pleural effusion, a condition in which fluid accumulates in the chest cavity and makes the expansion of lungs harder.

Treatment of Pneumonia

Treatment is decided by a general physician or a pulmonologist based on the severity of the infection. There are certain lab tests like blood culture, blood counts, chest Xray, chest scan, sputum culture which help in diagnosing the infection and aid in deciding a treatment plan. A course of antibiotics along with medication to reduce the inflammation or mucus production and for cough are given. If a patient has severe disease, oxygen support to maintain the saturation is done and at times mechanical ventilator is used to sustain the patient in cases of lung failure

Pneumonia can affect any age group but those who are at risk include:
– Children less than 2 years of age as their body’s defense mechanisms are not fully matured
– Elderly above 65 years due to the weakened immune system by age
– Individuals with conditions with a compromised immune system: AIDS, Cancers, or someone who is on immunosuppressants are at a risk.
– Smokers and alcoholics
– Hospitalized and comatose patients
– Persons with lung disorders like COPD 

Pneumonia prevention

Practise respiratory etiquette: whether you are infected or someone else, following respiratory hygiene will help prevent the spread. Avoiding touching your mouth and nose with unwashed hands can help prevent the condition.
Vaccination: Those who are at high risk especially should be vaccinated against Pneumonia. Also, a flu vaccine is to be given to help prevent flu which can lead to Pneumonia in high-risk individuals
Avoid smoking: be it primary smoking or second hand which will affect the local defense mechanisms of the lungs
Strengthen your immune system by following a healthy diet and exercise

Pneumonia is not uncommon and can be prevented by following simple tips like hand hygiene. If there is suspicion of Pneumonia, contact with an infected individual or if you are experiencing respiratory conditions such as chest pain, severe mucus-filled fought, fever, and difficulty breathing, consult with a general physician or a pulmonologist to prevent complications and start an appropriate customized treatment plan.

  • Dr.Sreelekha Daruvuri
  • Written by

    Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri

Dr. Sreelekha Daruvuri, MBBS with 5+ yrs of experience working as a Primary care Physician on Mfine. She initially worked with corporate hospitals and then as a resident in JIPMER for 2 years. She believes in a holistic approach to health care. She is also a public speaker, a blog writer and holds an interest in spreading awareness on health through digital media.

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