Pneumonia is a lung infection that is caused by pathogenic bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Though one cannot give a definite answer regarding the time for which pneumonia may remain contagious, following certain precautions can help prevent the transmission of the pathogen to others.
The term ‘pneumonia’ refers to a medical condition that is characterized by inflammation of one or both lungs due to an infection caused by pathogens or exposure to environmental irritants. The causative agents could be bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. It is a serious disease that can become life-threatening, if left untreated. Influenza and pneumonia together are believed to be the eighth leading cause of death in the US. It is therefore essential to increase awareness about the potential risks associated with this medical condition.
High Risk Groups
► People with a chronic illness
► Immunocompromised individuals
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
While Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, and Klebsiella pneumoniae are some of the types of bacteria that commonly cause pneumonia, this condition could also be caused by certain viruses. Viruses that cause inflammation of the lungs include influenza A virus, influenza B virus, respiratory syncytial virus, herpes simplex virus, varicella-zoster virus, adenoviruses, or parainfluenza viruses.
Though pneumonia in itself cannot be referred to as a contagious condition, the viruses and bacteria that cause this lung infection could get transmitted to others via direct contact or inhalation of the respiratory secretions of the affected individual. The disease-causing agent could become air-borne when the affected individual sneezes or coughs. Thus, it would be best to avoid direct contact with a person who is suffering from respiratory infections such as cold, flu, or pneumonia.
Not every person who is exposed to the disease-causing organism will develop pneumonia. The likelihood of a person contracting the infectious agent increases if his/her immune system is weak. This explains the high incidence of hospital-acquired pneumonia, which refers to the lung infection that is contracted by patients during a hospital stay. Germs or the causal organisms may be passed on to the patient through health care workers. The risk increases if the patient has recently been operated upon, or is being treated for a respiratory infection or a chronic lung disease.
The incubation period, which means the period from the time of exposure to the pathogen or irritant till the time when the symptoms first appear, would depend on the type of pneumonia. For instance, the incubation period for bacterial pneumonia is 1 to 3 days. If treated on time, the symptoms may subside within a couple of weeks. If the causal organism is the influenza virus, the incubation period ranges from 18 to 72 hours. Until the symptoms subside, precautions must be taken by the affected individual and others around him/her. It is preferable to assume that the infection may be contagious for 7 to 10 days after stopping the dosage of antibiotics or other drugs.
Symptoms to Watch Out for
The duration for which pneumonia may last would differ from person to person, depending on his/her age and overall health. Some of the common symptoms include:
► Intense chest pain
► Abdominal pain
► Shortness of breath and wheezing, alternated by rapid breathing
► Muscle pain
► Shaking chills that are followed by fever
Besides examining the patient’s breathing pattern with the help of a stethoscope, doctors also conduct certain tests to make a diagnosis. These include:
► Chest X-ray
► Complete Blood Count
► Pleural fluid culture
► Sputum analysis
At times, patients may have to undergo bronchoscopy, which is a procedure wherein a bronchoscope (flexible tube with an attached camera at one end) is passed down to examine the bronchial tubes and the lungs.
Though the use of drugs may help in alleviating the symptoms, it’s essential to follow certain measures in order to prevent yourself from contracting respiratory infections. These include:
► Maintain distance from anyone who has been exhibiting the aforementioned symptoms.
► Since the causative agent may be transferred to any surface or object that the affected individual may touch, the family members of the affected individuals must wash their hands frequently.
► Even if the affected individual is taking antibiotics or antiviral drugs, don’t use his/her personal belongings till he/she fully recovers.
► Administration of flu shots or vaccines can prevent infection by influenza virus.
► Administration of pneumococcal vaccine can provide protection against Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium.
Direct contact with a person affected by cold or flu can put others at a risk. If left untreated, cold or flu could progress to pneumonia. Thus, medical assistance must be sought if you or anyone in your family is exhibiting the symptoms of a respiratory infection. Do follow the aforementioned measures so that the infection doesn’t spread to others.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.