Can Pneumonia Be Contagious?

INTRODUCTION

Pneumonia is very common all over the world. Pneumonia affects children and adults, in the millions every year. Naturally, people are bound to ask, “can pneumonia be contagious”?

To be able to answer this important question, we will look into these and other issues:

– what is the definition of pneumonia?

– what causes pneumonia?

– how does someone get pneumonia?

– pneumonia symptoms / how to tell if you have pneumonia

– can you prevent pneumonia?

Before we go deeper into our discussion, let us present some quality, affordable items for online purchase. These are items that every household should have handy, or be able to acquire without a hassle.

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If you or your loved one has symptoms or signs suggestive of pneumonia, you need to check the body temperature. You also need to monitor the temperature of a mild case being treated at home. Below is a good quality thermometer for that.*

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* But PLEASE NOTE: you can only treat a mild case at home following the recommendation of a Healthcare professional. It is the professional who will decide that the case is mild!

“Is pneumonia dangerous?” someone is asking. Yes it is, because it affects a vital organ with which we breathe. Caution is advised.

In terms of prevention of pneumonia, kindly visit this article on this website for online items. Those items prevent the spread of respiratory infections.

For the management of fever and pain associated with pneumonia and other infections, this article has the medication for children and adults.

WHAT IS PNEUMONIA?

The prefix “pneumo-” refers to the lung. Pneumonia is infection and inflammation of the lung tissues. The infection can affect one lung (or part thereof), or it can affect both lungs.

Pneumonia is caused by many different micro-organisms. The organisms belong to the following groups, written in order of size, smallest first:

– viruses e.g. flu, COVID-19

– rickettsiae e.g. Rickettsia typhi

– bacteria e.g. Haemophilus, tuberculosis

– fungi e.g. Candida, Aspergillus

– protozoa e.g. lung flukes

Pneumonia caused by fungi is not very common. Pneumonia due to protozoa is rare, happening mostly in people with weak bodies due to immuno-compromise, etc.

“Atypical pneumonia” is another common expression. It simply means pneumonia caused by rarer bacteria like Mycoplasma. These bugs cause a pneumonia picture that usually lacks the typical clinical and laboratory signs of pneumonia.

Some people use the term pneumonia to describe lung diseases caused by non-infectious agents, such as smoke and chemicals. This is not very correct. Such inflammatory conditions of the lung should rather be called PNEUMONITIS e.g. chemical pneumonitis.

WHAT IS S. PNEUMONIAE?

S. pneumoniae is an abbreviation of Streptococcus pneumoniae. This is the Scientific name of a bacterium. Streptococcus is its “surname”, whereas pneumoniae is its “first name”.

You will know such a Scientific name of a living organism because it is written In italics. Alternatively, the name may be underlined. In both cases, the surname begins with a Capital letter.

Streptococcus pneumoniae is also called “pneumococcus”. It is one of two very important bacterial causes of pneumonia, the other being Haemophilus influenzae. Both these bacteria live at the back of our throats, most of the time causing no harm.

HOW DOES SOMEONE GET PNEUMONIA?

This is a very important question. Basically the germs that end up infecting the lung tissue, have to somehow find their way into the lung(s). This pneumonia pathophysiology will help us understand if pneumonia is contagious.

The commonest route of infection with pneumonia, is inhalation of infected droplets. The droplets come from an infected person who transmits them through coughing, sneezing, talking, singing, etc. This is much more likely to happen if the infected person is very close to you.

But germs that cause pneumonia can also be acquired by touching infected surfaces, and then transferring them to the nose, mouth or eyes. The micro-organisms can also travel in the bloodstream, and settle in parts of the body like the lung.

In the case of Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae, the bacteria for some reason becomes mischievous. It travels from its normal habitat, multiplies and seeds in the lungs of its host.

Sometimes people with conditions like epileptic seizures, decreased consciousness, intoxication (alcohol / drugs), may aspirate mouth, stomach, etc contents. The aspirated material then causes an aggressive infection and inflammation of the lungs, called “Aspiration Pneumonia”. Aspiration pneumonia has a very high mortality rate.

It is important to mention that everyday people come across germs in the air and surroundings frequently. The germs do enter our bodies, including our lungs. But not everyone falls sick.

Not all micro-organisms cause disease. And even those that do so, will not be able to get everyone sick. Most people who have competent immune systems, are able to fight off the germs, and not get sick.

WHAT IS THE SYMPTOMS OF PNEUMONIA?

Pneumonia is an infectious disease. Therefore in the majority of typical cases, there is

– a raised temperature (fever)

– cough (which is usually productive)

– fast and / or difficult breathing

– general feeling of being unwell

– toxicity, with chills

There may also be

– chest pain (sharp in nature)

– blue lips and tongue (low oxygen)

– coughing up blood

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRONCHITIS AND PNEUMONIA?

In pneumonia, the infection and consequent swelling and collection of fluid or pus, is deep in the lung tissue. With bronchitis, the infection and inflammation are confined to the bronchi or breathing tubes of the lungs.

The symptoms may however be quite similar.

Bronchitis can be caused by non-infectious agents, such as tobacco smoke. It can also be caused by allergic disorders of the asthma spectrum.

WHAT IS THE PREVENTION OF PNEUMONIA?

AVOIDANCE OF INHALATION OF INFECTED DROPLETS is the most important measure to prevent getting pneumonia. People sick with respiratory infections like pneumonia should take measures to protect those around them. They should strictly adhere to coughing and sneezing etiquette.

Good ventilation, with a good circulation of air, lessens the chances of infection. Clean surroundings also lessen the chances of germs being blown around.

In some instances e.g. COVID-19, sick people should wear masks to prevent spread of infection to others.

Uninfected people should keep a safe distance from the sick. If nursing a case of pneumonia, protective measures such as masks should be deployed.

Will pneumonia shot prevent pneumonia? Yes, there are vaccines available for some of the bugs that cause pneumonia. Of note:

* Influenza – an annual vaccine is available (this article)

* Streptococcus pneumoniae – pneumococcal vaccine is present

* Haemophilus influenzae – there is a vaccine, especially against the “b” strain. The vaccine is called Hib vaccine.

* Tuberculosis (TB) – BCG vaccination has been practised for decades. However it fails to protect in many cases. Hence TB remains the leading infectious cause of death among AIDS patients, and one of the biggest risk factors for death if one gets co-infected with COVID-19

CONCLUSION

Pneumonia is an infectious disease. It most commonly gets transmitted through infected droplets. And most cases are spread from one person to another.

So, yes, pneumonia can be contagious. It frequently is.

But pneumonia is not always contagious. Some bugs are not virulent enough to be passed on to another person. Or conditions sometimes just don’t favour the spread of pneumonia from one person to another.

There are measures we can take to lessen the chances of getting pneumonia. Pneumonia can be prevented. Pneumonia can be controlled.

ANY COMMENTS?

Comments, questions or indeed any contribution are very welcome. They go a long way to improving this website that is at your service, Esteemed Reader.

Kindly take a minute or so to share your thoughts on this or any other article on this website. And thanks in advance!

10 Replies to “Can Pneumonia Be Contagious?”

  1. I am not a doctor but all I know is Pneumonia is a very deadly illness that kills in a very short time if un-attended soon. Whether its contagiouss or no hadn’t occurred to my mind till date. I never knew that covid 19 could attribute to pneumonia as well. just like flue, pneumonia is contagious then. Thank you so much for sharing and look forward to reading more from here.

    1. Hi Paul,

      Thanks for reading through the article and commenting.

      Glad that the article clarified some points for you.

      Regards.

  2. I was never actually sure of the difference between Pneumonia and Bronchitis, and thanks to this interesting article, I now have a much better understanding of these two diseases.

    Luckily I have never suffered from any of these, but it is amazing that some people are affected so mildly and others end up in hospital fighting for their lives.

    I just wonder how many people now will get confused between COVID and Pheunmonia as they both have very similar symptoms?

    1. Hallo Michel,

      Thanks very much for your input. Glad that the article could be of help to you. And congrats for not having experienced pneumonia or bronchitis so far!

      There has indeed been a fair amount of confusion between COVID-19 and pneumonia. Many countries that did not have adequate testing facilities, reported a spike in “pneumonia” as a cause of death on death certificates. But of course we knew what was happening.

      The best piece of advice is for anyone with a respiratory infection, breathing difficulties, or even a fever of unknown origin, to seek prompt professional attention. And it is prudent that sick individuals get TESTING. The reason is it is never possible to predict who will, in the event that the problem is COVID-19, get life threatening illness. And pneumonia is not a harmless condition either!

      Regards.

  3. Hello Doctor, feel so happy to be here and that is because I am someone who travels a lot and come in contact with a lot of people who are strangers. And taking care of my health at these moments is really a challenge as I’m exposed to lots of danger. Knowing these little things that you have addressed here can save me from contacting the bacteria infection. Cheers

    1. Hi Justin,

      Thanks for reading through the article and providing your feedback. Thanks for relating your story.

      Travellers will now have to take extreme care, following the COVID-19 pandemic.

      Regards.

  4. I’ll be honest that I have little to no knowledge or experience with pneumonia so I was really intrigued by this and learnt a great deal from it. Really glad that I came across it. Your article ‘Can Pneumonia Be Contagious’ was beautifully written and easy to understand. I think it’s great that you you’re putting this information out there. 

    1. Hallo,

      Thanks for reading through the article and commenting.

      I am glad for you – you are one of the lucky few who have no experience with pneumonia. Glad that the article has equipped you for any eventuality.

      Regards.

  5. Hi Dr. Teboho,

    I think u have come up with a lovely article on pneumonia. In today’s time of COVID, it is a basic bit of information that everyone needs to know. COVID too spreads in the same way as pneumonia; ie through droplets transmitted from one person to another. When these inhaled droplets reach the lungs, they infect it and cause complications.

    I compliment you for a very timely article.

    Aparna

    1. Hi Aparna,

      Thanks for reading through the article and providing valuable feedback.

      I am glad that you find it a timely intervention.

      Warmest regards!

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