Is Tonsillitis Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Tonsillitis Symptoms

Swollen tonsils can accompany a number of different infections of the upper respiratory tract. Tonsillitis refers to inflammation of the tonsils, which typically occurs due to infection from viruses or bacteria. Tonsillitis may be accompanied by other symptoms like

  • cough,
  • sore throat,
  • painful swallowing,
  • headache, and
  • a coating of yellow pus on the tonsils.

What is tonsillitis?

The large tonsils are two oval-shaped areas of lymphoid tissue that occur on the left and the right side of the throat. These tonsils are also referred to as the palatine tonsils. In addition there are two lingual tonsils located at the base and the back of the left and right tongue. Tonsillitis is inflammation of one or both of the tonsils. The adenoids are lymphoid tissue located at the back the pharynx that often become infected with the same microbes at the same time as the tonsils.

Is tonsillitis contagious?

Most acute infections of the tonsils are due to viruses or bacteria and usually is contagious by direct person-to-person contact.

  • Tonsillitis caused by a virus infection usually is contagious for about 7-10 days.
  • Bacterial tonsillitis can remain contagious for about two weeks.

Some individuals can become chronic carriers of potentially infectious bacteria and can be mildly contagious for long periods of time. Persons that are infected by bacteria and are treated with antibiotics are considered non-contagious after approximately 24-48 hours of appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/7/2015

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