Is Acute Bronchitis Contagious?

So, is acute bronchitis contagious?

Bronchitis is a medical problem affecting your airways, or your throat and your lungs. It can leave you coughing a great deal, short of breath and in great discomfort. So, is acute bronchitis contagious?

When it appears suddenly, for a short period, this is known as an acute episode. It can be hard to diagnose due to its similarities with other types of coughs, and general cold and flu symptoms. The general rule of thumb is that a cough that goes on for longer than a week may well be bronchitis.

So how do you get it and is acute bronchitis contagious?

You spread the cause, not the condition

You may well have heard warnings about putting your hand over your mouth when you cough and then washing your hands to avoid spreading infections. Clearly, when you cough, fluids can come from your mouth, including phlegm, and these can contain pathogens that spread illness.

This means that, although bronchitis is something that is a structural issue, you can pass it along by coughing on someone, for example, spreading the viruses and bacteria that cause bronchitis.

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your airways. This irritation and swelling results in the reflex action of coughing. The inflammation can also restrict your airways, meaning that you wheeze, get out of breath easily and feel tired. People with bronchitis also sometimes experience chest pain.

Bronchitis is usually an acute condition which means it appears suddenly as a one-off and lasts for one to three weeks. The likely cause is a cold or flu. These viruses and the mucus they stimulate irritate the airways and causes them to inflame.

The common cold and flu are contagious – and by not taking suitable action you will spread these viruses to other people.

However, if you pass a cold or flu to someone else, it does not automatically follow that they too will experience bronchitis.

Another way in which people can experience inflammation in their airways is via a bacterial infection. This is less common – probably around 10% of all cases.

This particular cause of bronchitis is easily spread, particularly to anyone who has vulnerable or compromised respiratory system. This includes someone who is already ill, the elderly or young children.

How long is acute bronchitis contagious?

Having answered the question 'is acute bronchitis contagious?' you may now need to know the timeframe. The period of time that you can pass on your virus or bacteria depends on the type you have.

Cold and flu viruses are not something doctors will test for. Medical advice is usually based on getting plenty of fluids and rest. The best bet is to assume that you could pass your cold or flu virus to someone else – especially by coughing near them – for anything up to a week.

You should certainly consider being very careful for four to six days after you first experience symptoms.

How can I stop acute bronchitis spreading?

Apart from making sure that you don't cough near someone else, and you wash your hands regularly, how else can you stop the spread?

Avoid close contact with other people. Even speaking to someone may transmit droplets that contain the pathogens. It can also be passed around by shaking hands with someone. And certainly, there's no kissing allowed!

Both viruses and bacteria can live outside the body for some time – days in the case of some strains. So don't share cutlery, cups or glasses with anyone.

One way to prevent bronchitis is to get an annual flu shot, to avoid getting the viruses that cause this medical condition.

Chronic bronchitis

The other form of bronchitis is “chronic”, meaning the inflammation reoccurs periodically or goes on for a long time. The causes could be a variety of factors, including that you are particularly susceptible to dust, smoke or airborne chemicals and pollution.

This is a condition that requires medical intervention. It is not contagious – you can't pass chronic bronchitis along. However, the vulnerable state of your airways and the constant attack on them could lead to serious health problems.

Medical advice is usually to consult your physician if the inflammation of your airways causes you lingering pain and coughing for more than 20 days. Or, if in the initial 10 days of having bronchitis, the symptoms remain constant or worsen, seek advice.

Other signals to seek medical advice

Clearly, acute bronchitis is contagious, but doesn't necessarily involved a trip to the doctors. However, if you have acute bronchitis, there are other indicators to suggest seeking help from your physician. This includes severe breathing difficulties and breathlessness, inability to sleep, and a temperature of over 100.4ºF.

You should also seek medical advice if you have blood in your mucus when you cough.

Last Reviewed:
August 28, 2017
Last Updated:
October 10, 2017
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