Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Responsible for the death of over 50,000 Americans annually, pneumonia can be a life-threatening condition. Characterized by lung inflammation, the infection can stem from more than 30 different causes, primarily fungal, bacterial, or viral infection. Those with compromised immunity, older adults over the age of 65, as well as young children up to 2 years old are most susceptible to developing pneumonia. Other risk factors for the condition include smoking and spending extended time in a hospital or living facility, amongst others. Additionally, there are various types of pneumonia, including community-acquired pneumonia and hospital-acquired pneumonia.

Pneumonia caused by bacterial infection is often the most potentially dangerous kind of pneumonia, in which hospitalization may be required, depending on the situation. Common symptoms include a high fever reaching up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, an accelerated heart rate, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough consisting of green, yellow, or bloody mucus.

Risk of bacterial or viral transfer

At this point, you may be wondering if a person who develops pneumonia can transfer it to another individual. Pneumonia in and of itself cannot be transferred. However, the bacteria or virus responsible for the infection can be spread.

Most bacteria-related cases of pneumonia stem from the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which can be contracted through air particles after an infected person has coughed or sneezed. It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces. However, there is no risk of transfer with fungal-related cases of pneumonia. The same is true for pneumonia caused by chemical fume inhalation (via UPMC Western Maryland).

Those with virus-based cases of pneumonia are considered contagious throughout the duration of their illness up until they have been without fever for multiple days. For cases of bacterial infection, an individual is still contagious up until their fever has completely subsided and they have been treated with antibiotic drugs for two or more days.

Practicing prevention against pneumonia

While rare in healthy adults, some research suggests there may be a connection between pneumonia and the subsequent development of alternate health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. "An acute infection like pneumonia increases the stress on the heart and can lead to a cardiac event like heart failure, heart attack or arrhythmias," Weston Harkness, a cardiology fellow at Samaritan Cardiology — Corvallis, told Samaritan Health Services.

To help protect against the risk of severe complications, experts emphasize the importance of practicing prevention against infection that may lead to the development of pneumonia. Such measures include avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol use, practicing regular hand hygiene, and getting plenty of sleep, exercise, and nutrition through a healthy diet.

Vaccination is among the most effective ways to protect against infection. "It is always better to prevent [pneumonia] than to treat it," Dr. Daniel M. Musher, member of the Infectious Diseases Section at the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Administration Medical Center, told the Baylor College of Medicine. "Getting the pneumococcal vaccine, as well as the flu, RSV and COVID vaccines, goes a long way in preventing and reducing symptoms of these serious respiratory diseases."