I'm often asked "is pneumonia contagious". I will answer that question but the answer will make more sense if I answer some other common questions about pneumonia in babies and toddlers first.
The answer to the question "Is pneumonia contagious" is similar in adults as in children, so click here if you want to skip the details about childhood pneumonia and go straight to the answer to find out if pneumonia is contagious.
When I refer to pneumonia on this page, I will be referring to community acquired pneumonia, which means pneumonia that a baby or toddler gets outside of hospital.
Pneumonia is an infection that involves the lung tissues. The lung tissues involve the alveoli (or air sacs) and the bronchi (air tubes). You may also have heard of alveolus and bronchus - that's a single air sac and a single air tube. A pneumonia that involves both the alveoli and bronchi is referred to as bronchopneumonia.
Pneumonia that affects both lungs is sometimes referred to a "double pneumonia". Infection in the bronchi is sometimes referred to as bronchitis.
Read on to answer "is pneumonia contagious?"
Anybody can get pneumonia. Around 3 - 4 % of children less than 5 years of age in North America get pneumonia. There are some risk factors that can make pneumonia more severe, including:
Pneumonia can be caused by viruses and by bacteria.
Most pneumonia in children less than 2 years of age is viral in origin. That means that antibiotics will not work, but in most cases, the body will be able to fight the infection and your infant or toddler will recover. The viruses seen in pneumonia include:
When considering "is pneumonia contagious", it is important to remember that the organisms that cause pneumonia can be contagious, particularly the viruses. So the viruses can be passed from one person to another although the infection may result in a "cold" rather than pneumonia. It is very important to teach your child to cover their mouth when coughing and to use tissues which should be binned after use.
Teach your child to cough into her (bent) elbow - it is better than coughing into the hand which will more likely be in contact with other things so more likely to spread - the elbow won't be in contact with much else.
In children older than 2 years of age, bacterial causes of pneumonia are more likely with the following bacteria commonly seen:
A chest infection is a general term which refers to an infection in the chest which could be pneumonia, bronchitis, bronchopneumonia or bronchiolitis.
Chest infection is often used for minor infections of the chest which are usually viral. In this case, the answer to "is pneumonia contagious" is "no", but again the virus causing the pneumonia may spread to others. Sometimes, viral chest infections are called "walking pneumonia".
There are a range of symptoms and signs we see with pneumonia in children. Every child is different and so children with pneumonia may not all have the same symptoms and signs, but may have one or more of the following:
The normal job of the lungs is to take oxygen from the air you breathe in and transfer that oxygen from the alveoli (air sacs) to the blood stream and to take carbon dioxide from the blood and transfer it to the air you breathe out.
If there is infection in the alveoli or the bronchi, it is harder for the oxygen transfer to take place, so the body has to work a little bit harder.
The signs of this increased work of breathing can be quite subtle so in pneumonia you may only notice that the rate of breathing is increased. Other signs include prominence of the ribs, flaring of the nostrils, a grunting sound with each breath and in severe cases, blue lips.
The rate of breathing depends on age, so a guide is:
If your child is working hard with breathing but the rate is not as high as above, still act on the work of breathing - so if you are worried about the work of breathing, don't be reassured just because the rate seems fine. Your child may have a serious respiratory disorder with a breathing rate that is not as high as the rates above. Rate is just one indication of breathing difficulty.
There is no easy way to do this but your doctor will make an assessment based on the age of your child, the severity of your child's symptoms and signs, what organisms are known to be in the community at the time and the chest x-ray appearances.
If you or your child has been in contact with anyone with tuberculosis make sure you tell your doctor as it might be important information for your doctor to factor into decisions regarding investigation and treatment. Again when considering "is pneumonia contagious", having contact with tuberculosis is important to note as tuberculosis is contagious and contacts of a person with tuberculosis need a medical review.
The treatment depends on the cause.
Most children do not require a repeat chest x-ray after treatment for pneumonia. However, if your child still has signs of difficulty breathing 3 weeks after the treatment has finished, see your doctor as a chest x-ray would be helpful in understanding why your child still has symptoms.
Children who have a complicated initial pneumonia (for example, an empyema) will also require a repeat chest x-ray.
Children who get more than one episode of pneumonia are usually investigated to make sure their immune system is working well and that they don't have an underlying illness like cystic fibrosis.
There are some general measures that you can undertake to try and reduce the risk of your child getting pneumonia but even with these measures, some children will still get pneumonia. Things that may prevent pneumonia include:
So, we're back to the original question, "is pneumonia contagious".
Pneumonia in itself it usually not contagious but the organisms, particularly the viruses, that cause pneumonia can be contagious.
Pneumonia can be caused by the same viruses that cause the common cold or influenza and these viruses can be passed from person to person. You may just have a cold but someone else may get a pneumonia. From that point of view, the virus is contagious but not the pneumonia.
When your child has a "cold" or pneumonia it it important to take care to prevent spread of viruses by hand-washing so you minimise the infection being contagious. Also teach your child to cover her mouth when coughing or sneezing.
To prevent the viruses that can cause pneumonia being contagious, it is wise to keep your unwell child away from other children and to keep your well child away from children who may be unwell.
Some conditions causing a type of pneumonia such as tuberculosis are very contagious and you should see your doctor if you have been in contact with someone with tuberculosis. This pneumonia is contagious.
So overall, unless you have tuberculosis, the answer to the question "is pneumonia contagious" is "no", but take precautions not to spread the germs that can cause pneumonia when you or your child is not well.
There are some basic measures you can take to reduce the spread of respiratory bugs (both viruses and bacteria). So although the answer to "is pneumonia contagious" is generally "no", the germs (viruses and bacteria) that can cause pneumonia are contagious and you can prevent them spreading.
To read about the prevention of spread of respiratory viruses and bacteria, click here (opens in a new page).
As you see above, most pneumonia is not directly contagious to your baby. If you are not well, you should follow these steps:
Although pneumonia is not usually contagious, the fact that you are unwell means your baby may get unwell too. Following the steps above gives your baby the best chance.
However, if you have Tuberculosis, then the answer to "is pneumonia contagious" is yes. You and your baby will require treatment.
To go to the main Breathing difficulty page, click here - gives information on when to contact the doctor
Last reviewed 28 April 2011
|We comply with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health