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Difference Between Pneumonia, Strep Throat And Bronchitis

Updated on December 20, 2016

Sore throat, cough, nasal congestion and chest tightness – would this be bronchitis? Or Strep throat? Or wait a minute, do I have pneumonia?

These are the questions that hit everyone when we suffer from a respiratory tract infection. How do we know what infection we are suffering from? How do we tell sore throat from pneumonia apart?

Here is the answer to the questions that trouble all of us.


Pneumonia is an inflammatory infection of the lungs. It is either caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or even by any foreign object which irritates the lungs. It is characterized by the swelling of lung tissues in one or both of the lungs.

Pneumonia can be contagious but it depends on what has caused the infection. Bacterial and viral infections are said to be contagious in nature but this also depends on the strain of the bacterial pathogen. Pneumonia caused by any lung irritant is not contagious.

In similar note, strep throat is also a contagious infection although it is not an infection of the lungs. Strep throat is caused by group A Streptococcus, also known as GAS, and is an infection of the throat. It is characterized by inflammation and swelling in the back of the throat and the swelling is filled with pus. The person experiences a lot of pain in the throat region.

In contrast, bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubules which function as air passageways to and from the lungs. It is characterized by thick mucus production in the airways due to inflammation and swelling. When it comes to the question whether bronchitis is contagious or not, it actually depends on the its type. Bronchitis is of two types;

  • Acute bronchitis
  • Chronic bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is contagious while chronic bronchitis is not contagious.

However, there are a lot of other differences as well between pneumonia, strep throat and bronchitis which we are going to discuss now.

The Most Common Cause Of Pneumonia

  1. Bacteria Are The Most Common Cause Of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, virus, fungi or any lung irritant. Some of these pathogens cause mild cases of pneumonia while other strains of pneumonia may be lethal.

Experts say that mycobacterium and mycoplasma are highly contagious but cause mild pneumonia.

Other types like pneumococcal pneumonia require certain conditions for their transfer and as a result are not very contagious.

Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza are the common causes of bacterial pneumonia in most people while Staphylococcus aureus is common in drug addicts, young children and people with chronic health conditions.

  • Types of Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia can be of two types:

a. Community-Acquired Pneumonia

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is caused by bacterial pathogens outside a healthcare facility. CAP contributes to the most common cases of pneumonia. Some of the bacterial strains that contribute to CAP are Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is responsible for many health conditions including ear infection, sinusitis and some blood infections.

b. Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia

This type of bacterial pneumonia is called hospital acquired pneumonia (HAP) and infects a person in a span of two to three days of bacterial exposure in a hospital or clinic. HAPs are also popularly known as nosocomial infections and are resistant to antibiotics and disinfectants. Therefore, HAP are more difficult to treat than CAP. The most common HAP is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

2. Viral Pneumonia Is The Second Most Common Type And It’s Contagious!

The second most common cause of pneumonia is viruses which are also contagious in nature, just like bacteria. The most common cause of viral pneumonia is Influenza.

  • Types

Viral pneumonia is of three types:

a. Influenza Pneumoniae

Influenza causing virus is the most common cause of viral pneumonia that manifests in 3 to 5 days. The symptoms include:

  • Cyanosis, i.e., blue color of the skin due to insufficient oxygenated blood
  • Dyspnea, i.e., laborious breathing
  • b. Human Metapneumovirus (HMPV)

The virus causes upper respiratory problems in people of all ages, however those with a weak immune system have a higher tendency to get infected.

c. Human Parainfluenza Viruses (HPIV)

This pneumonia causing virus infects infants and young children mostly and the symptoms take two to seven days to develop. In addition to the common pneumonia symptoms, ear pain and irritability can also be experienced.

3. Fungal Pneumonia

Fungal pneumonia is rarely contagious in nature and infects people with weak immune system. Pneumocystis jiroveciiis is a common fungal pathogen which leads to other serious infections.

What Causes Pneumonia

B. Strep Throat Has Only One Culprit (GAS)

Strep throat is caused by Streptococcus pyogenes which comes in the category of Group A streptococci (GAS). These bacteria are not only responsible for causing strep throat but also impetigo, acute glomerulonephritis (inflammation of glomeruli) and rheumatic fever. The bacteria colonize in the throat and lead to pus formation.

GAS can easily spread to:

  • Uninfected people around you due to its contagious nature. The bacteria travel through nasal droplets which are sneezed or coughed out due to the irritation in the throat. When another person comes in contact with these droplets and touches their face with the contaminated hands, the bacteria infects them too.
  • People through contaminated food. If the food is not preserved properly or is not pasteurized or refrigerated in a proper manner, the bacteria can start growing in the food.

C. The Most Common Cause Of Bronchitis Is Seasonal Change

    • Acute bronchitis is a milder form of bronchitis. It is characterized by swelling of the bronchial tubes due to irritants. In fact, this inflammation is an immune response to the irritants and as a result, the bronchial tubes produce mucus.
    • Chronic bronchitis, which comes under chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a more serious form of bronchitis. It is due to excessive smoking over many years and the condition worsens over time.

    Bronchitis is caused by bacteria, viruses, allergens or any lung irritant.

    1. Bacterial Pathogens

    The bacterial pathogens which are believed to cause bronchitis are:

    • Streptococcus pneumonia
    • Staphylococcus aureus
    • Haemophilus influenzae

    However, these pathogens are not said to be a cause of bronchitis, rather they infect patients who show symptoms of bronchitis.

    2. Viral Pathogens

    Viruses contribute to an average of 90% of all bronchitis cases. The infection is caused by influenza A and B, parainfluenza, coronavirus, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus.

    3. Lung Irritants

    The lung irritants include smoke, fumes, grain dust and fabric fibers which cause aggravation in the lungs. Allergens like pollen grains, peanuts and hay are also likely to cause bronchitis.

Bronchitis or Pneumonia

D. Symptoms Of Pneumonia, Strep Throat And Bronchitis Are Similar Yet Different

  1. The Symptoms Of Pneumonia Are;

- Heavy breathing

- Cough with or without phlegm

- Fever

- Decreased appetite

- Chest pain

- Nasal congestion

- Fatigue

- Headaches

The symptoms slightly vary due to the type of pathogen causing pneumonia. Bacteria pneumonia and viral pneumonia have slightly different symptoms and are also contagious in nature while mycoplasma pneumonia is a milder form of pneumonia which doesn’t even require hospitalization.

  • Bacterial Pneumonia Is Characterized By;

- Chest pains

- Shaking chills

- Sweating

- Fever

- Headache

- Productive cough

  • While Viral Pneumonia Is Characterized By;

- Fever

- Muscle pain

- Headache

- Fatigue

- Dry cough

2. Strep Throat Is Characterized By

Strep throat is more common in children than it is in adults. Reports say that 4 to 6 out of every 20 children are down with strep throat. In contrast, only 1 to 3 adults out of every 20 people get infected with strep throat.

  • The Symptoms Of Strep Throat In Children Are;

- Sore throat

- Swollen tonsils

- Yellow or white patches in the throat

- Chills

- Fever

- Nasal congestion

- Neck pain

- Nausea and vomiting

- Loss of appetite

- Joint stiffness

- Headache

- Swollen lymph nodes

- “Strawberry tongue”, which is characterized by inflamed taste buds

  • The Symptoms Of Strep Throat In Adults Are;

- Sore throat

- Headache

- Nausea and vomiting

- Runny nose

- Fever

- Yellow or while tonsils

- Consistent sneezing

- Coughing

- Swollen lymph nodes in the back of the neck

3. You Can Spot Bronchitis By These Few Symptoms

  • Inflammation of the bronchial tubes
  • Mucus production
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort

Fever and chills


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