Is Pneumonia Contagious?

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Pneumonia comes in many forms—from viral to bacterial and the less likely fungal form. Each variety causes inflammation in your lungs.

This inflammation results from the air sacs in your lungs filling with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. In return, you feel rundown, miserable, and suffer from a cough that can take weeks to get rid of.

As with many illnesses, the type of pneumonia you have will determine many factors—including whether or not your variety of pneumonia is contagious. While many people think pneumonia isn’t contagious, some varieties are indeed contagious.

Tired-looking young couple seated on a couch with blankets while being sick together at home.

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Types of Pneumonia

Fungal Pneumonia

Fungal pneumonia can be tricky. You can get fungal pneumonia from breathing in fungal spores often found in soil and occasionally bird droppings. While these fungal spores may cause pneumonia quickly, it’s also possible for these spores to remain dormant in your body; then, one day, they flare up into a case of pneumonia. 

A typical example of fungal pneumonia that can remain dormant is Valley Fever. A majority of residents in the southwestern United States will be exposed to the fungal spores that cause Valley Fever at some point. Some people are exposed and never get sick. Others are exposed, and the illness lies dormant for months, years, or even decades. Yet others will get sick reasonably quickly.

Since fungal pneumonia comes from the environment around you, it is not deemed contagious. 

Walking Pneumonia

Technically speaking, walking pneumonia is a type of bacterial pneumonia. It comes from the bacteria named Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Walking pneumonia is most common in those less than 40 years of age who live and work in crowded quarters. Being in close quarters is one reason it’s so easy for school children to catch walking pneumonia.

While no one wants to catch pneumonia, if you had to pick one type, you’d likely want to pick walking pneumonia. While the symptoms may vary from person to person, typically those with walking pneumonia will have:

  • Basic cold-like symptoms
  • A low-grade fever
  • Cough

In fact, the symptoms can be so mild that you can still participate in your normal day-to-day activities without looking too terribly sick. This is why walking pneumonia may go on long before receiving a diagnosis.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, and close contact in general. These bacteria are so easy to pass, they can spread to another person before the first person starts showing symptoms. These bacteria can affect anywhere from a small portion of one lung to widespread areas in both lungs.

Depending on the strain of bacteria causing pneumonia, you may be contagious anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

One of the most common strains known for causing pneumonia is called pneumococcal. Along with pneumonia, this bacteria can cause:

This bacteria can also create bronchitis, which is different than pneumonia. 

Viral Pneumonia

Just like the common cold, pneumonia can be viral or bacterial. Viral pneumonia can transfer from person to person. One of the most well-known forms of viral pneumonia is the flu virus, which is easily spread and causes a wide variety of symptoms. 

Viral pneumonia tends to heal quicker than bacterial or fungal pneumonia and is often less severe. It also makes up about one-third of all pneumonia diagnoses each year.

How You Catch Pneumonia

While anyone can catch pneumonia, some people are more likely to come down with illness when coming into contact with the germs. Like many other illnesses, pneumonia is caught through contact with the bacteria or virus that creates pneumonia.

Coughing and sneezing are the most common ways these germs spread.

It’s also possible to catch the illness by touching something like a counter or door handle, sharing cups and utensils, and touching your face without washing your hands first. 

Groups at Risk

While pneumonia can be acquired at any age, the following groups are most likely to experience severe cases:

  • Children less than 2 years old
  • Adults more than 65 years old
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Those who suffer from heart and lung conditions, including asthma
  • People who smoke
  • People with diabetes

Prevention

When it comes to pneumonia, there are a few things you can do to decrease the likelihood of spreading the infection, along with preventing yourself from getting pneumonia in the first place. These recommendations are similar to the techniques for avoiding the flu.

While many people think coughing is a sign you’re contagious, this simply isn’t true. Pneumonia can be infectious anywhere from 24 hours up to two weeks after starting antibiotics. For many people, their cough will continue beyond these two weeks. 

Cover Your Mouth and Nose

While the preferred method for covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze is into a tissue, not everyone can get to tissues in time when the urge to cough or sneeze hits. If you have the urge to cough or sneeze—and a tissue isn’t available—the next best thing is to cover your mouth or nose with the inside of your elbow.

Coughing or sneezing into your elbow will decrease the chances of your leaving traces of your infection on door handles, faucets, or anything else you touch.

Wash Your Hands

Regardless of whether you’re sick or healthy, washing your hands with soap and water is often good for your health. When you’re ill and wash your hands, you’re reducing the number of germs you can spread. When you’re healthy and washing your hands, you reduce the chance of introducing dangerous germs to your body.

Limit Contact With Others

One of the best things you can do when recovering from pneumonia is to limit your contact with others. As we’ve learned throughout the COVID-19 pandemic—which can cause viral pneumonia—staying at least six feet away from others reduces the amount of viral or bacterial content they are exposed to as you breathe or talk. 

Vaccines

Currently, two pneumonia vaccines are available in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends children younger than 2 years, adults older than 65 years, and anyone of any age who struggles with certain chronic health conditions or has an autoimmune disorder receive one of these vaccines

The vaccines include:

  • Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine: Often called Prevnar 13 or PCV13, this vaccine is effective against 13 types of bacterial pneumonia. At this time, the CDC recommends Prevnar 13 for those older than 2 with certain medical conditions. It’s also recommended as a four-part series for newborns. They should receive a Prevnar 13 vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 12–15 months old.
  • Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine: Also known as Pneumovax or PPSV23, this vaccine works on 23 different types of bacterial pneumonia. The CDC recommends everyone 65 years of age or older, those from 2 to 64 years of age with certain medical conditions, and those older that 19 years who smoke should receive a Pneumovax vaccine.

A Word From Verywell

There are two essential things to remember when it comes to pneumonia:

  • You can reduce your chances of getting pneumonia by avoiding those who are sick and remembering to practice good hand hygiene.
  • If you come down with pneumonia, it’s important to take care of yourself. If you experience wheezing, shortness of breath, fever, cough, or chest pains, seek medical care immediately.

While pneumonia is often easily treatable with at-home care, in certain situations, a delay in seeking professional help may result in a worse condition or possibly even death.

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Article Sources
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  1. Yale Medicine. Pneumonia.

  2. MedlinePlus. Valley Fever. Updated December 2, 2020.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pneumococcal vaccination. Updated April 7, 2021.