Exactly How Contagious Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis usually occurs in acute or chronic form. Depending on the clinical picture, it may or may not be contagious.
Exactly how contagious is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a pathology that can be contagious. The main characteristic is the devotion to the lower respiratory tract. It occurs when the bronchi in the lungs become inflamed due to infection or for other reasons, such as smoking or inhaling toxic gases and dust for a long time.

There are two types of bronchitis: chronic and acute. According to epidemiological studies, the former, of a long-term nature and complex approach, can affect up to 11% of the population between the ages of 20 and 70. It is therefore normal to wonder if bronchitis is contagious. Read on to find the answer.

Different types of bronchitis

To answer the above question, we must describe in detail the two types of bronchitis that can affect humans. In short, acute bronchitis is contagious, but chronic bronchitis is not. This statement requires a long list of nuances to consider, so read on.

A lung with bacteria.
Some varieties of bronchitis are contagious when caused by viruses or bacteria.

Acute bronchitis

According to Medicina de Urgencias , a bibliographic source, more than 10 million people consult a doctor because of this condition. Thus, one can say that it is a relatively common pathology.

As mentioned by other specialized sources, the infectious agents that cause acute bronchitis in 90% of cases are viruses ( adenovirus, influenza, parainfluenza, RSV, rhinovirus, bocavirus, coxsackie or herpes simplex ). In the remaining 10% it is Streptococcus pneumonia . As you can see, this pathology has a rather contagious nature.

According to the references already cited, acute bronchitis follows a seasonal pattern due to its association with viral infections. That is, they occur much more during the winter months, when cold and dry climates are directly correlated with a higher viral transmission.

If you look at the flu virus, for example, it seems to have a basic reproductive R0 value of around 1.3. This means that an infected person will on average transmit the disease to 1.3 more people. Thus, acute bronchitis is subject to this type of epidemiological parameters.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of acute bronchitis can be summarized as:

  • Chest cough
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mild fever and chills
  • Discomfort in the chest

Note that this variant of bronchitis is self-limiting. It disappears on its own 10 to 14 days after the first symptoms appear.

Although they are related to pathogens, acute bronchitis can also occur due to non-infectious processes (allergies, aspirations or gastroesophageal reflux). Therefore, not all cases of acute bronchitis are contagious, but most are.

In some cases, chronic bronchitis is contagious

The main characteristic of this long-term pathology is recurrent airway inflammation with secondary damage. As the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) explains, there can also be continuous coughing that lasts for several months. In addition, it is recurrent, since it may return for two or more years in a row.

This type of bronchitis has nothing to do with pathogens. Sources such as the Mayo Clinic claim that up to 75% of cases are due to tobacco smoking. Other risk factors may be asthma, cystic fibrosis, age or genetic predisposition. It is also often part of a serious condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the US National Library of Medicine, symptoms of chronic bronchitis are more severe and long-lasting than the symptoms of the acute variant. Among them we find:

  • Continuous, frequent and prolonged chest cough
  • Wheezing (a whistling or screaming sound when you breathe)
  • Shortness of breath, especially during physical exertion
  • Pressure in the chest

Although this pathology is usually associated with non-infectious agents, this is not always the case. This type of bronchitis can also be caused by microorganisms, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis and Mycoplasma pneumoniae .

This risk of an additional respiratory infection occurs mainly in those who have undergone a tracheostomy or in immunosuppressed patients.

How to prevent bronchitis?

To answer the question of whether bronchitis is contagious or not: The acute variant is usually contagious, but the chronic one is not. Therefore, prevention will depend on the condition you are trying to protect yourself from.

In any case , the Mayo Clinic has some general considerations to consider. Some of them are:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have the flu or other respiratory conditions. Viruses move through microparticles in saliva, which are excreted during coughing and sneezing.
  • Wash your hands often with soap, especially in winter and during periods of high epidemiological risk.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Take the flu vaccine, especially if you are in a risk group – for example , being over 65 years old.

As you can see, these measures are aimed at the prevention of acute bronchitis, as it is the variant with a greater infectious nature. At this point, it should be clear that not smoking is the best measure to avoid chronic bronchitis.

An X-ray of a lung.
The chronic form of bronchitis is part of COPD and has a specific treatment.

Is bronchitis contagious?

Despite what many people think, the two types of bronchitis do not differ from each other due to the causative agent, but rather due to the duration of the inflammation in the bronchi. Therefore, not all acute cases are due to pathogens, and not all chronic cases are due to smoking.

However, there are some exceptions. Typical influenza viruses are usually a variant of the acute version.

Finally, consult a doctor if you have a cough that lasts for more than two weeks. This is because it can be a form of bronchitis or other disease of the upper respiratory tract.

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