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Is bronchitis contagious yes or no?

Bronchitis is a common respiratory disease that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to and from the lungs. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis is a short-term illness that usually improves within a few days to weeks. Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition that recurs frequently and lasts for months. So is bronchitis contagious? The answer depends on the type.

Is Acute Bronchitis Contagious?

Acute bronchitis is often caused by a viral infection, and the same viruses that cause colds and flu can cause bronchitis. The most common causes of viral bronchitis are:

  • Rhinovirus (common cold virus)
  • Influenza virus
  • Adenovirus
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

These viruses are highly contagious and spread easily through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale contaminated droplets directly, or pick up the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes. This makes viral bronchitis quite contagious.

In addition, some of the viruses that cause bronchitis are airborne and can spread through the air via tiny droplet nuclei that remain suspended for long periods. RSV and adenovirus can spread this way. So in summary, acute viral bronchitis is contagious and spreads similarly to colds and flu.

How Long is Acute Bronchitis Contagious?

People with acute viral bronchitis are usually contagious from a few days before symptoms start until the infection clears. This contagious period depends on the virus:

  • Adenovirus: contagious for 7-10 days
  • Influenza virus: contagious for 5-7 days in adults and up to 21 days in young children
  • Parainfluenza virus: contagious for up to 10 days
  • Rhinovirus: contagious for 2-3 days before and up to 2 weeks after symptoms start
  • RSV: contagious for 3-8 days, or even up to 4 weeks

With most respiratory viruses, adults are contagious for about a week. However, the contagious period can be longer in young children and infants. It’s best to stay away from others until all symptoms resolve.

How to Avoid Spreading Acute Viral Bronchitis

To avoid transmitting acute viral bronchitis, follow these precautions:

  • Stay home from work, school and other public places while you have a fever and other symptoms.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your elbow.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared objects.
  • Avoid close contact with others until your infection clears.

Following the same basic infection control measures used to prevent colds and flu can help prevent the spread of viral bronchitis.

Is Bacterial Bronchitis Contagious?

Bacteria can sometimes cause acute bronchitis, usually after a viral respiratory infection. The most common causes are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae
  • Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Haemophilus influenzae

Bacterial bronchitis itself is not very contagious. Bacteria do not spread as easily through casual contact as viruses. However, the bacteria that cause bronchitis can be spread through close contact with an infected person.

How is Bacterial Bronchitis Spread?

The bacteria are transmitted through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. You can inhale contaminated droplets directly or pick up bacteria from surfaces where droplets have landed. Pertussis is very contagious this way, especially before coughing starts. Mycoplasma pneumoniae may also spread through longer contact with respiratory secretions.

So while bacterial bronchitis is not as easily spread as viral bronchitis, you can still catch it by:

  • Inhaling respiratory droplets from an infected person nearby
  • Sharing food, drinks or other personal items
  • Kissing an infected person

Pertussis is very contagious and spreads more easily before the distinctive coughing spells develop. But in general, bacterial bronchitis does not spread extensively through brief, casual contact.

Contagious Period for Bacterial Bronchitis

People with acute bacterial bronchitis are usually contagious for up to 2 weeks without antibiotic treatment. With appropriate antibiotics, they are no longer contagious after taking medication for 24-48 hours.

The contagious period can be longer with pertussis. People are very contagious in the early stages before coughing begins, and for the first 2 weeks after coughing starts. With antibiotics, pertussis spreads for about 5 days. Without treatment, it can spread for about 3 weeks.

Preventing Bacterial Bronchitis Transmission

To avoid spreading bacterial bronchitis:

  • Take any prescribed antibiotics as directed until finished.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Avoid close contact with others whenever possible.
  • Disinfect any shared surfaces and objects.

Treatment and basic hygiene precautions can significantly reduce the risk of transmitting bacterial bronchitis.

Is Chronic Bronchitis Contagious?

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts for 3 months or more per year, for at least 2 years. It is one type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In most cases, chronic bronchitis is not infectious. It is usually caused by long-term damage and irritation from inhaled irritants rather than contagious pathogens. Common causes include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Air pollution
  • Chemical fumes or dust

However, chronic bronchitis can sometimes be caused by persistent bacterial or viral infections. In these cases, it has the potential to spread similarly to acute bronchitis.

Can Chronic Bronchitis Be Contagious?

When chronic bronchitis is caused by bacteria like H. influenzae or S. pneumoniae, it can be mildly contagious. Respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing can spread infection to those in close contact.

Likewise, chronic bronchitis from persistent infection with respiratory viruses like rhinovirus or RSV can spread viral infection through coughing, sneezing, or close contact. This is most likely with viruses that can establish latency like adenovirus.

So in summary:

  • Non-infectious chronic bronchitis is not contagious.
  • Chronic bronchitis from air pollution, smoking, etc. does not spread.
  • Infectious chronic bronchitis has the potential to spread similarly to acute bronchitis.

But even infectious chronic bronchitis is much less contagious than other chronic infectious respiratory diseases like tuberculosis or pertussis.

Protecting Yourself and Others

To avoid getting or spreading infectious chronic bronchitis:

  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has symptoms.
  • Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Use tissues to cover coughs and sneezes, then wash hands.
  • Don’t share food, drinks or personal items.
  • Clean and disinfect any shared surfaces and objects.

Treatment with appropriate antibiotics, good hygiene and limiting contact until symptoms resolve can reduce contagiousness.

Is Bronchitis Like a Cold or Flu?

Bronchitis is often described as a “chest cold” because acute bronchitis has many similarities with the common cold:

  • Caused by respiratory viruses
  • Spreads by coughing and sneezing
  • Has an overlapping contagious period
  • Causes similar symptoms like sore throat, congestion, cough

Influenza can also cause viral bronchitis. So acute bronchitis often mirrors cold and flu patterns in terms of transmission and contagious period.

However, there are some key differences between bronchitis and colds/flu:

  • Bronchitis inflammation is lower in the airways.
  • Bronchitis cough and symptoms often persist longer.
  • Bronchitis less often causes high fever or body aches.

So while acute viral bronchitis shares similarities with colds and flu, it targets the lower airways more specifically.

Is Bronchitis As Contagious as a Cold?

Acute viral bronchitis is similarly contagious to the common cold. The viruses that cause colds, like rhinovirus and RSV, also frequently cause bronchitis. These cold viruses spread through:

  • Respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing
  • Contact with contaminated surfaces or shared items
  • Close personal contact

The contagious period is also similar, around 1 week for adults. So acute viral bronchitis and colds share very similar easy transmission patterns.

Comparing Contagiousness to the Flu

The flu or influenza is considered more contagious than either colds or acute bronchitis. It spreads rapidly through communities, often reaching epidemic levels.

Influenza spreads readily through droplets and contaminated surfaces. But it also spreads through very fine aerosolized droplets that linger longer in the air. The flu virus is stable for longer on surfaces compared to cold viruses.

People with the flu are contagious for about 5-7 days in adults. But children and those with weakened immune systems can be contagious for much longer. Overall the flu is considered more easily transmitted than viral bronchitis.

Is Bronchitis Contagious Like COVID-19?

COVID-19 is caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, while acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses like rhinovirus, RSV and influenza. However, COVID-19 can sometimes cause bronchitis after the initial infection.

There are some similarities between COVID-19 contagiousness and bronchitis transmission:

  • Both spread through respiratory droplets and contact.
  • Both have overlapping contagious periods around 1 week.
  • Coughing is a key transmitter for both.

However, there are also important differences that make COVID-19 significantly more contagious:

  • COVID is contagious 1-2 days before symptoms appear.
  • SARS-CoV-2 spreads through tiny aerosolized droplets easily.
  • COVID is contagious for much longer, up to 20 days.
  • COVID is more stable on surfaces.

While acute bronchitis and COVID-19 have some similarities in transmission and symptoms, COVID spreads much more extensively and quietly. Public health measures like masking and distancing are crucial to control the spread of COVID-19.


In summary, whether bronchitis is contagious depends mainly on the cause:

  • Acute viral bronchitis is contagious and spreads like colds or flu through coughing, sneezing, close contact, and contaminated surfaces.
  • Acute bacterial bronchitis does not spread as easily but can transmit through cough droplets and close contact.
  • Non-infectious chronic bronchitis is not contagious.
  • Infectious chronic bronchitis has the potential to spread similarly to acute bronchitis.

Acute viral bronchitis is contagious like colds and flu and spreads through respiratory droplets and contact. Chronic bronchitis from environmental irritants is not infectious, but chronic infection can be mildly contagious. Understanding how bronchitis spreads can help prevent transmission to vulnerable populations.