Pneumonia is most commonly caused by bacteria and viruses, which are contagious. It can also be caused by breathing in a foreign object (aspiration pneumonia).
Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both of the lungs. It's usually caused by an infection – most commonly, bacteria and viruses, which are both contagious.
The germs that can cause pneumonia are usually breathed in. People often have small amounts of germs in their nose and throat that can be passed on through:
- coughs and sneezes – these launch tiny droplets of fluid containing germs into the air, which someone else can breathe in
- touching an object and transferring germs on to it – someone else can touch this object and then touch their own mouth or nose
Preventing the spread of pneumonia
You can help prevent the spread of a pneumonia by taking some simple hygiene precautions.
- washing your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly after touching your nose and mouth, and before handling food
- coughing and sneezing into a tissue, throwing it away immediately and washing your hands
- not sharing cups or kitchen utensils with others
There is a vaccine that protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.
Vaccination is recommended for:
- adults aged 65 or over
- children and adults with certain long-term health conditions, such as a serious heart or kidney condition
Read more about who should have the pneumococcal jab.
The Streptococcus pneumoniae vaccine is usually given as part of the routine NHS child vaccination schedule. If you're unsure if you or your child has been given the vaccine, check with your GP.