Bronchitis is usually contagious for a day or two if it’s bacterial or up to one week or more if it’s related to a viral infection. You may also be contagious for a day or two before experiencing symptoms.

Bronchitis is a respiratory infection that develops when viruses, bacteria, or certain substances irritate and inflame the bronchial tubes in your lower airways. This condition usually comes with a dry but productive cough, and it’s usually contagious.

The amount of time bronchitis may be contagious depends on its cause. Bacterial bronchitis in children may be contagious for only 24 hours, while bronchitis resulting from a viral infection may be contagious for a week or longer.

If you have acute bronchitis caused by a virus or bacteria, you can pass the infection to others through the mucus you cough up and into the air around you.

Chronic bronchitis, which is typically the result of long-term toxin exposure such as cigarette smoking, is not usually contagious.

This article will review when bronchitis is contagious, for how long, and how you can avoid transmitting or contracting an infection that can cause bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis infections are usually caused by viruses and less often by bacteria. Both viral and bacterial respiratory infections are contagious, meaning you can transmit the infection to people around you.

Viral and bacterial respiratory diseases usually spread from one person to another through tiny particles in the air or through contact with mucus that contains the virus or bacteria. How contagious your infection is depends on what caused it and how susceptible the people around you are to infection.

People with weakened immune systems are most sensitive to infections and may be able to contract viral and bacterial infections when other people are no longer susceptible.

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis isn’t an infection, exactly. Instead, it’s long-term overproduction of mucus that blocks your airway and makes breathing more difficult. This condition usually develops over time as a result of smoking or toxin exposure from air pollution or the workplace.

Chronic bronchitis is not contagious and falls into the category of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Viral infections that can cause bronchitis are usually contagious for a few days.

For example, if your bronchitis was caused by an infection with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), it will probably be contagious for 3–8 days, including the day or two before you started showing symptoms.

If you have bronchitis resulting from the flu, it could be contagious for 5–7 days after you contracted the infection, including about 1 day before you showed any symptoms.

Bacterial bronchitis is less common and doesn’t necessarily need treatment with antibiotics.

In children, these infections tend to last longer and may be called protracted bacterial bronchitis. This condition can require antibiotic treatment for as long as 2 weeks, at which time the coughing resolves.

Bronchitis: The infection timeline

Learn more about bronchitis, including how long it will take you to feel better, here.

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A dry-sounding productive cough that brings up mucus is the main symptom of bronchitis, regardless of whether it’s caused by a viral or a bacterial infection.

Other symptoms you might experience, depending on the type of infection that caused your bronchitis, include:

  • stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • congestion
  • hoarse voice
  • fever
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain or pain with breathing
  • wheezing
  • fatigue

Many of the respiratory viruses and bacteria that lead to bronchitis spread though contact with a surface or substance that carries the pathogen.

Most of the time, these germs travel from one person to another in tiny droplets that are propelled through the air or onto surfaces by a cough or sneeze.

Wearing a face mask when you are sick can help you avoid spreading respiratory viruses and other pathogens to others. It can also prevent you from contracting viruses from people around you.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are sick to avoid contracting respiratory infections.

Bronchitis is an inflammation in your airway that develops from a viral or bacterial respiratory infection. It is possible for an infection to transfer from person to person, but basic infection prevention measures, such as washing your hands and avoiding close contact with people who are sick, can help you stay healthy.

You may want to take additional infection prevention measures if you know you have a health condition or take any medications that can weaken your immune system.