Is Bronchiolitis Contagious?

  • 1st Revision: Aastha Dahra Malik[Linkedin]
  • 2nd Revision: Shagun Dhaliwal
  • 3rd Revision: Kaamya Mehta[Linkedin]

What is bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is an infection of the lower respiratory tract (the chest) which occurs when tiny branches of air tubes in the lungs called bronchioles are affected by a virus. This disease occurs mainly from the months of November to April.1

Causes of bronchiolitis

Bronchiolitis is caused by a virus known as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The virus causes inflammation and a build-up of mucus in the airways that delivers air to the lungs and the bronchioles. This eventually makes breathing difficult.2  

Signs and symptoms of bronchiolitis

One may begin to wonder how bronchiolitis presents itself or how they can identify a suspected case of the infection. The infection manifests in several signs and symptoms. Bronchiolitis starts with coryza (blocked nose) with low-grade fever, and then progresses to coughing, breathing more quickly, overinflated lungs, noisy breathing, flaring of the nostrils, and diffused cracking.3 

Who gets bronchiolitis?

Do adults get bronchiolitis?

Children below the age of 2 years are most at risk of the infection.4 Bronchiolitis rarely occurs in adults or older children, except when they are suffering from underlying illnesses, such as chronic heart or lung disease from birth and weakened immune system from medication or illnesses.5 However, there is a condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans, also called the pop-corn lung which occurs in adults. As much as bronchiolitis and bronchiolitis obliterans are similar - in that they are both inflammations of the bronchioles - they are different in the sense that while bronchiolitis is caused by a virus, bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by constantly breathing intoxicants over a long period time. The most common of such intoxicants is diacetyl.6 

Is bronchiolitis contagious?

How long can people be contagious and how to prevent the virus from spreading?

Considering that the virus that causes bronchiolitis affects the lungs and causes coughing and other symptoms, the infection can be easily spread from person to person, either when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or when one touches contaminated objects. According to the Center for Disease Control, infected people can remain contagious for a period of 3-8 days. Meanwhile, some children and people whose immune system has been weakened can continue to be contagious for about 4 weeks after they stopped showing signs and symptoms.5 Therefore, to prevent the virus that causes bronchiolitis from spreading, one needs to wash their hands and those of their babies, wash, wipe, and clean toys and all surfaces at regular intervals, and keep babies from people with colds or the flu. it is also worth emphasizing that parents should not smoke around their newborn babies, especially when they are under the age of 2 years.


Most children infected with respiratory syncytial virus usually get a mild fever which usually stops on its own. As of now, there is no drug for the treatment of bronchiolitis, and as such supportive care is mainly used in the management of the infection. For those who do not get over the infection on their own, children's paracetamol can be given to children for 2 months and ibuprofen for children under three months to relieve their pain. Parents can also try to use saltwater drops if their children’s nostrils are blocked.7 Children can also drink many fluids to prevent dehydration, and maintaining a smoke-free environment will also help.


Bronchiolitis, like many other diseases, can develop complications not only from the disease itself but from any medication the patient is taking at the moment. Complications usually result from patients with weakened immune systems and pre-existing lung and heart diseases. Complications from bronchiolitis can result in acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), bronchiolitis obliterans, congestive heart failure, secondary infection, myocarditis, arrhythmias, and chronic lung disease.


In summary, bronchiolitis is an infection of the bronchioles with a virus known as the respiratory syncytial virus. The virus causes an inflammation of the bronchioles resulting in mild fevers accompanied by coughing, wheezes, mucoid nostrils, breathing quickly, noisy breathing, and overinflated lungs. It is contagious as it can be transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or when transmitted from surfaces that have been contaminated by an infected person. These signs and symptoms usually stop on their own. However, in cases where the infection doesn’t stop, children's paracetamol can be given to children under the age of 2 months or ibuprofen to children under the age of 3 months. Other supportive care can be given to infected children such as keeping the child upright, dropping salt water in the nostrils, and giving the child lots of fluids, as there is no known drug for the infection yet. Infants with suppressed immune systems and with underlying heart and lung diseases may develop complications such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), bronchiolitis obliterans, congestive heart failure, secondary infection, myocarditis, arrhythmias, and chronic lung disease.


  1. Kundan Mittal TBAM. Acute bronchiolitis in children. Journal of Pediatric Critical Care. 2020 January;
  2. The Royal Children's Hospital General Medicine, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine departments. [Online].; 2018 [cited 2022 June 09. Available from:
  3. Samina Ali ACPTPK. BRONCHIOLITIS. Kendig & Chernick's Disorders of the Respiratory Tract in Children. 2012 April.
  4. Kundan Mittal TBAM. cute bronchiolitis in children. Journal of Pediatric Critical Care. 2020 January; 7.
  5. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. [Online].; 2020 [cited 2022 June 9. Available from:
  6. American Lung Association Scientific. [Online].; 2021 [cited 2022 June 9. Available from:
  7. .NHS. [Online].; 2022 [cited 2022 June 9. Available from:
  8. Maraqa NF. [Online].; 2021 [cited 2022 June 8. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Fuanyi Awatboh

M.Sc. in Epidemiology and Control of Infectious Diseases, University of Buea, Cameroon

I am a professional Quality Assurance Mentor with Global Health Systems Solutions. My job is to enhance HIV testing, Care, and treatment by making sure that all entry points in the three hospitals under me follow standard testing algorithms, have all necessary tools and equipment needed for testing, train testers if need be, and monitor that all positive cases are under treatment among other duties. I have also mentored laboratories to increase their quality of service and standards of operations.

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