Is Bronchiolitis Contagious?

Is bronchiolitis contagious and what is it?

Normally affecting young infants and children, bronchiolitis is an infection of the respiratory tract or lungs. When bronchiolitis occurs, the airways within the lungs, or the bronchioles, become inflamed. Once swollen, these airways may also fill with mucus. As a result, less air is able to get into the lungs and patients may suffer from breathing difficulties. So, is bronchiolitis contagious?

Although bronchiolitis can affect older people, the condition is often associated with babies and young children. As their airways are smaller, if they become swollen or blocked, breathing difficulties may be more prevalent.

While the illness typically occurs within the first two years of life, babies between the ages of three and six months are most commonly affected by the condition.

What causes bronchiolitis?

Normally, bronchiolitis is the result of a viral infection. In fact, the respiratory syncytial virus is believed to be responsible for over half the cases of bronchiolitis in infants. Rhinovirus, also known as a cold, influenza and human metapneumovirus can also give rise to the condition, if complications occur.

In many cases, bronchiolitis will be relatively mild and the child may simply display symptoms similar to that of the common cold. Fortunately, most infants do not require medical treatment when they contract bronchiolitis. Instead, symptom management is normally effective, until the virus resolves itself.

However, if severe bronchiolitis occurs or if the child has a pre-existing condition, medical intervention may be required. As the airways are affected by the condition, breathing capacity can be reduced considerably. In some cases, therefore, bronchiolitis may result in a medical emergency and swift treatment may be needed in order to prevent a life-threatening situation occurring.

Is bronchiolitis contagious?

Due to the potential severity of the condition, many parents are aware of bronchiolitis. Often, the biggest question surrounding the condition is, is bronchiolitis contagious?

As bronchiolitis is viral in nature, it can be contracted easily. If an infected patient coughs or sneezes, for example, airborne droplets can carry the virus. If these droplets are then breathed in or contracted from a surface, the virus spreads.

When analyzing is bronchiolitis contagious, it must be confirmed that the condition is highly contagious and can easily be passed on. In the case of young children, bronchiolitis may be easier to contract than in other demographics.

As young infants tend to put items, such as toys, in their mouths, they may spread and contract viruses more quickly and more frequently than older people.

While antiviral and antibacterial cleaning products may reduce the risk of contracting bronchiolitis, the chance of developing the condition cannot be eliminated entirely.

Is bronchiolitis a serious condition?

In most cases, bronchiolitis does not present a serious risk to life. Although patients may display symptoms, such as a fever or a cough, the virus usually peaks within three to five days and fully resolves itself within three weeks. During this time, parents may administer appropriate children's medication to reduce fever and relieve pain but additional treatment is often not required.

However, if a child is suffering from a particularly bad bout of the condition, medical assistance must be sought. Similarly, if a baby is premature, their airways may be smaller than average and this can result in complications if bronchiolitis is contracted.

In addition to this, an immunocompromised child can react badly if they are struck with a viral infection, such as bronchiolitis. As a result, physicians may advise parents of premature babies or children with pre-existing conditions to avoid potential sources of contamination.

Peak bronchiolitis season tends to occur from October to May and the condition may be most common during the winter. As a result, it may be inadvisable to take children who are likely to suffer complications from bronchiolitis to particularly busy areas, such as play centers. [3]

Although most children will not need to be admitted to hospital due to bronchiolitis, if complications occur there are a range of treatments which can be used. Oxygen supplementation, for example, can be used if breathing difficulties occur. Similarly, if upper airway suctioning may be appropriate if the child is in respiratory distress.

Whilst these interventions are not routinely needed, they can be beneficial for patients suffering from severe bronchiolitis. If parents feel that the illness is worsening or if breathing problems occur, they are always advised to seek medical help. By examining the infant, a physician can determine whether they are simply displaying symptoms of the standard virus or whether their bronchiolitis requires urgent medical intervention and treatment.

Last Reviewed:
August 18, 2017
Last Updated:
October 19, 2017
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