Is Bronchitis Contagious?
References: (1, 2)
Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that affects millions of people worldwide, characterized by the inflammation of the respiratory tubes that carry the air to and from the lungs. It can be categorized into two types: acute and chronic bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is a frequent medical condition characterized by a rapid onset, with a persistent cough, with or without sputum production. Viruses usually produce acute bronchitis; this is why antibiotics are not usually an effective treatment. Clinical symptoms like cough could last up to two to three weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition often associated with smoking and exposure to other toxic chemicals.
In this article, we will review the definition of bronchitis, its causes, address if they are contagious or not, and what we can do to prevent its spread. Understanding the contagious nature of acute bronchitis is crucial in taking appropriate precautions to prevent its spread.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis can be categorized into two types: acute and chronic bronchitis depending on how long the symptoms last and their recurrence. (1)
Acute bronchitis: A lower respiratory tract infection involving the biggest part of the airway, usually caused by viral infections and with symptoms of:
- Coughing (that usually persists for 1-3 weeks)
- Chest discomfort
- Production of mucus in the absence of chronic pulmonary disease.
Acute bronchitis can be preceded by upper respiratory tract infection symptoms like headache, stuffy nose, and sore throat. (2, 3)
The most common viral causes of acute bronchitis are: (2)
- Influenza A and B
- Coronavirus types 1 to 3
- Respiratory syncytial virus
- Human metapneumovirus
Bacterial infection is an infrequent cause of acute bronchitis (in just 6% of cases) (5). The causes include:
- Bordetella pertussis
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Moraxella catarrhalis
- Haemophilus influenzae. (4-6)
Chronic bronchitis: Can be defined as a productive cough that lasts three months or more and happens in a range of 2 years. It is associated with smoking and emphysema. There are multiple possible causes of chronic bronchitis:
- Smoking tobacco
- Industrial pollution
- Toxic chemicals like ammonia and sulfur dioxide
- Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Repeated acute bronchitis
- Genetic causes
People who suffer from asthma, cystic fibrosis, or bronchiectasis have a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis. (1, 8)
Is bronchitis Contagious?
As with many respiratory infections, acute bronchitis can be contagious. The viruses/bacteria are transmitted through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can be transmitted to another person by inhaling or touching a surface where the droplet landed and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
It is important to say that the contagious period of acute bronchitis lasts for a few days to a week after the start of the symptoms.
Chronic bronchitis is not caused by infection with viruses or bacteria, and this is why it is not contagious. Since it is associated with long-term exposure to irritants or repeated acute bronchitis infections, people with chronic bronchitis can increase the risk of developing acute respiratory infections, which could be contagious.
How to Prevent Bronchitis?
To reduce the spread of bronchitis, we can take preventive measures that reduce the risk of transmission.
- Good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer after coughing, sneezing, or touching surfaces.
- Vaccination: Getting the annual flu shot is important to help protect against Influenza infections that may lead to bronchitis.
- Avoid close contact: Avoid close contact with others if you have symptoms of bronchitis or an upper respiratory tract infection, particularly those with chronic respiratory diseases or weakened immune systems. These people are more susceptible to catching respiratory illnesses.
- Good respiratory hygiene: Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing with the crook of the elbow or a tissue, and try not to touch your nose, eyes, and mouth.
Frequently asked questions about whether bronchitis is contagious
Is it important to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated?
If you have bronchitis, it is very important to drink fluids to thirst because it keeps the secretions that produce in your lungs and airways more liquid and are easier to expel.
Are acute bronchitis and chest colds the same?
Yes, sometimes acute bronchitis is called a chest cold. This is because after a person catches a cold and it turns into bronchitis, we could say that the cold "migrated" to the chest.
Should I take antibiotics if I have bronchitis?
Viruses usually cause bronchitis, and antibiotics are not effective in treating viral infections. Also, acute bronchitis usually resolves on its own, and taking antibiotics when unnecessary contributes to antibiotic resistance. However, it is always important to consult with a healthcare professional to make sure bronchitis is not caused by a bacteria and to rule out other illnesses.
What over-the-counter medication can I take to help manage bronchitis symptoms?
To help manage acute bronchitis symptoms, you could take this over-the-counter medication:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
- Expectorants: to clear the mucus-like Guaifenesin (Mucinex): Should only be used in people that can expel phlegm. (13)
- Cough suppressants: Like Tiraminic and Vicks 44 Cough and Cold. Both contain dextromethorphan: People with lung conditions like asthma or emphysema shouldn’t take dextromethorphan. (13)
It is important to notice that not all people can or should take these types of medication. Therefore, it is important to check with your physician first.
Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic, based on duration and recurrence. Acute bronchitis is caused by viral infections and presents with cough, chest discomfort, and mucus. Chronic bronchitis is often linked to smoking and other irritants, produces a persistent cough lasting more than three months, and recurs over two years.
Knowing its contagiousness is crucial for taking preventive measures. Acute bronchitis is contagious due to viruses or bacteria that could be disseminated via respiratory droplets. Proper etiquette & hand hygiene can reduce transmission risk.
Chronic bronchitis is not caused by infection and is not contagious. However, those with chronic bronchitis are more prone to developing acute respiratory infections, which can be contagious. Therefore, maintaining good respiratory hygiene and avoiding close contact with individuals showing respiratory symptoms can prevent the spread of acute bronchitis.
In conclusion, by understanding the types, contagion, and preventive measures associated with bronchitis, individuals can take proactive steps to safeguard their respiratory health and prevent the spread of this respiratory condition.
- Thomas M File, Jr, MD. Acute bronchitis in adults. Iran:UpToDate; Literature review current through: Mar 2023. | This topic was last updated: Nov 22, 2022. Available from: https://www.medilib.ir/uptodate/show/6870
- Kinkade S, Long NA. Acute Bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016 Oct 1;94(7):560-565. PMID: 27929206. Acute Bronchitis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Wenzel RP, Fowler AA 3rd. Clinical practice. Acute bronchitis. N Engl J Med. 2006 Nov 16;355(20):2125-30. doi: 10.1056/NEJMcp061493. PMID: 17108344. Clinical practice. Acute bronchitis – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Clark TW, Medina MJ, Batham S, Curran MD, Parmar S, Nicholson KG. Adults hospitalised with acute respiratory illness rarely have detectable bacteria in the absence of COPD or pneumonia; viral infection predominates in a large prospective UK sample. J Infect. 2014 Nov;69(5):507-15. doi: 10.1016/j.jinf.2014.07.023. Epub 2014 Aug 6. PMID: 25108123; PMCID: PMC7112687. Adults hospitalised with acute respiratory illness rarely have detectable bacteria in the absence of COPD or pneumonia; viral infection predominates in a large prospective UK sample – PMC (nih.gov)
- Creer DD, Dilworth JP, Gillespie SH, Johnston AR, Johnston SL, Ling C, Patel S, Sanderson G, Wallace PG, McHugh TD. Aetiological role of viral and bacterial infections in acute adult lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) in primary care. Thorax. 2006 Jan;61(1):75-9. doi: 10.1136/thx.2004.027441. Epub 2005 Oct 14. PMID: 16227331; PMCID: PMC2080713. Aetiological role of viral and bacterial infections in acute adult lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI) in primary care – PMC (nih.gov)
- MacKay DN. Treatment of acute bronchitis in adults without underlying lung disease. J Gen Intern Med. 1996 Sep;11(9):557-62. doi: 10.1007/BF02599608. PMID: 8905509; PMCID: PMC7088579. Treatment of acute bronchitis in adults without underlying lung disease – PMC (nih.gov)
- Wark P. Bronchitis (acute). BMJ Clin Evid. 2015 Jul 17;2015:1508. PMID: 26186368; PMCID: PMC4505629. Bronchitis (acute) – PMC (nih.gov)
- Widysanto A, Mathew G. Chronic Bronchitis. 2022 Nov 28. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan–. PMID: 29494044. Chronic Bronchitis – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- American lung Association. Chronic Bronchitis. Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel; Page last updated: November 17, 2022. Available from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/chronic-bronchitis
- Healthy habits to help prevent flu. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fflu%2Fprotect%2Fhabits%2Findex.htm. Accessed April 29, 2019.
- Acute bronchitis. Merck Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pulmonary-disorders/acute-bronchitis/acute-bronchitis. Accessed April 29, 2019.
- American lung Association.Learn about Acute Bronchitis. Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel; Page last updated: November 17, 2022. Available from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/bronchitis/learn-about-bronchitis
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Treating acute bronchitis. [Updated 2020 Dec 2]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458286/