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Is Pneumonia Contagious?

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Pneumonia is contagious just like a cold or flu when it is caused by infectious microbes. However, pneumonia is not contagious when the cause is related to a type of poisoning like inhalation of chemical fumes.

The Various Forms of Pneumonia

Contagious pneumonia comes in several different forms, including the following:

  • Aspiration pneumonia
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Walking pneumonia, which can be a milder form of MRSA

These types indicate the type of pathogen that initially affected the lung and caused the disease. Some people also describe pneumonia in terms of where a person acquired it, such as hospital-acquired pneumonia or community-acquired pneumonia. While some forms of pneumonia are contagious, the disease isn’t as easy to spread a cold or the flu.

When and How is Pneumonia Contagious?

A person can spread the germs that cause pneumonia when he or she coughs and expels the bacterial or viral infections that caused the disease. The droplets containing the virus or bacteria can land on a common surface, such as a table, telephone, or computer. You could also breathe in the droplets and bring them into your own breathing tract.

The time that a person may pass along pneumonia varies depending on the type and how he or she acquired it. Additionally, some types of pneumonia are much more contagious than others. Two examples of highly contagious strains of this illness are mycoplasma and mycobacterium.

Once a person who has pneumonia starts on antibiotics, he or she only remains contagious for the next 24 to 48 hours. This can be longer for certain types of organisms, including those that cause the disease tuberculosis. In that case, someone can remain contagious for up to two weeks after starting on antibiotics. When someone has viral pneumonia, the contagious period starts to subside when the symptoms do. This is particularly true of fever. Keep in mind that someone who had pneumonia may still cough occasionally for several weeks, even after he or she is no longer contagious.

Incubation Period and Symptoms of Pneumonia

The incubation period is the time from when you pick up the pneumonia virus to when you actively display symptoms. Many variables affect this, including the type of pneumonia, your general health, and your age. You may assume that you have a cold or the flu when symptoms begin because they are quite similar. However, they last longer and become more severe with time instead of less.

The most common symptoms associated with pneumonia include:

  • Aches and pains in the chest when you cough or draw in a breath
  • Chills and fever
  • Cough that produces phlegm
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms typically appear within three days to one week of when you first start feeling ill.

Pneumonia Can Be Fatal

When you acquire pneumonia, it could affect only one lung, both lungs, or spread from one to the other. It causes the air sacs in your lungs, also called alveoli, to become inflamed. This is what makes it difficult to breathe. Doctors typically treat pneumonia with antibiotics, but it remains the leading cause of infectious disease death in children under age five across the world. As with the flu, pneumonia can also be deadly for elderly people.

Smokers and those with asthma have a greater likelihood of catching all different strains of the disease. However, bacterial infection is the most common cause among adults in the United States.

When to Seek Medical Care for Your Pneumonia

At Western Maryland Health System (WMHS), we recommend that any person who has had a cough and a fever after experiencing flu-like symptoms schedule an appointment with their primary care provider as soon as possible or visit a WMHS urgent care center. This is especially important if the cough produces sputum that appears brown, green, or yellow in color. Anyone who experiences shortness of breath, high fever, confusion, or pain after a diagnosis of pneumonia should go to the WMHS Emergency Department immediately for treatment. Those with a depressed immune system or chronic conditions like HIV or diabetes should also seek immediate care.

WMHS wishes you a safe and healthy winter of 2019. If you’re concerned about the possibility of pneumonia, we encourage you to speak to your primary care provider about a vaccine to prevent some of its types. It’s also important to maintain good personal hygiene standards, avoid people who are already sick with pneumonia, and stay home when you have the disease yourself.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing relating symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency. 

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