Is Pneumonia Contagious? How Do You Get It?

Pneumonia is a very popular term but perhaps very misunderstood.

It can affect people of all ages and can cause mild to severe illness. It is also contagious.

According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under 5 years of age, killing about 920,136 children worldwide in 2015.

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In this article, we would be explaining what causes pneumonia, how pneumonia is spread, its symptoms, treatment and how to prevent it.

What is Pneumonia?

The word pneumonia is coined from the Greek term ‘pneumon’ which means ‘lung’ or floater’.

Pneumonia is simply an inflammation of the lung. This inflammation can make breathing difficult and limit oxygen intake. Exposure to bacterial and viral agents is the most common reason why people have pneumonia.

What Causes pneumonia?

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, virus, fungi, or chemical that reaches the lung either directly by inhalation or indirectly via the bloodstream.

When the body’s immune system spots the invading agent, it attacks it at the alveoli. (Alveoli are tiny air sacs where gas is exchanged in the lungs).

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Consequently, this defense mechanism leads to the accumulation of fluid and pus in areas that should be filled with air, hence the development of symptoms and signs like difficulty breathing and cough.

Who Is At Risk of Developing Pneumonia?

There are some risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing pneumonia.

Here are some:

  • Extremes of age (infants and old age)
  • Smoking
  • Alcoholism
  • A weak immune system whether acquired or inherited
  • Chronic lung disease, kidney disease, and/or liver disease
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Recent surgery or trauma
  • Living in a long-term care facility

Hospital workers are also at increased risk of developing pneumonia.

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Depending on the causative agent, yes, pneumonia can be contagious.

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Bacteria and viruses are contagious, so, if either of them is the cause, it can be spread from person to person.

Bacterial and viral pneumonia can be spread by:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Sharing eating utensils
  • Touching an infected object

However, it is important to note that not everyone exposed to the same bacteria or virus would develop pneumonia.

If the cause is fungal, it is likely spread from the environment. In this case, it is not contagious and can not be spread from person to person.

How Do You Prevent Pneumonia?

Despite how common and dangerous pneumonia is, it can be prevented.

Here are some tips to prevent pneumonia:

  • Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life for newborns helps boost their natural immunity against pneumonia.
  • Improve indoor air quality
  • Regular hand washing
  • Cover nose and mouth with a handkerchief or tissue paper when sneezing or coughing.
  • Stop smoking
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccines are available for different causative agents of pneumonia.

The annual influenza vaccine, also known as the flu shot, is indicated for high-risk groups. Check with your physician to get accurate feedback about your available local vaccination protocol.

Latest posts by Mahmoud Mokhtar, MBBS, MRCP (UK) (see all)
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