Is Colitis 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: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What is colitis?

Colitis is a general term that can mean inflammation of the colon; however, more recently the term colitis has been used to include enteritis, proctitis, and even inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). There are many different causes of colitis, so the best way to answer questions about colitis is to determine what type of colitis you want information about. Since there are books written on the various types of colitis, this short article will only serve as an introduction and classify the major types as mainly contagious or as non-contagious (not contagious).

Is colitis contagious?

The following is a list of some conditions that are often termed "colitis" but have different underlying causes that make them classifiable as either contagious or non-contagious; some terms related to colitis subsets, just like the term "colitis," have multiple causes that result in the condition being either contagious or not contagious:

  • Enteritis: contagious and not contagious
  • Proctitis: contagious and not contagious
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): subsets;
    • Crohn's disease (not contagious),
    • Ulcerative colitis (not contagious), and
    • indeterminate colitis (not known)
  • Allergic colitis: not contagious
  • Pseudomembranous colitis: contagious
  • Infectious colitis (many bacterial, viral , fungal and parasitic types): most are contagious, but a few are not contagious
  • Ischemic colitis: not contagious
  • Immune deficiency disorders (many types): not contagious
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis: not contagious
  • Microscopic colitis: not contagious
  • C. difficile colitis: contagious
  • Bacterial colitis: contagious

Colitis Symptoms

Despite the cause, people suffering from colitis may have symptoms such as

  • abdominal pain,
  • cramping,
  • bloating, and
  • diarrhea.

Bloody diarrhea is associated with some types of colitis.

How will I know if I have colitis?

Although symptoms vary greatly depending on the type of colitis, almost every type of colitis has the symptoms of abdominal discomfort, diarrhea and/or pain. Other symptoms may vary with the type of colitis and may include:

Individuals with some of these symptoms are likely to need a health-care professional to order tests (blood, fecal and/or imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, and possibly other tests) to diagnose the type of colitis.

How is colitis spread?

  • Contagious types of colitis are spread from person-to-person, but non-contagious types of colitis are not.
  • Contagious types of colitis are usually spread by direct person-to-person contact, usually by the hands (fecal/oral), but others may be spread by contaminated food or fluids, and for some types, indirectly by contact with contaminated items like clothing, utensils, or toothbrushes.

When will I know I'm cured of colitis?

Some types of colitis, like Crohn's disease or microscopic colitis, have no known cure to date; others, like bacterial-caused enteritis, can be "cured", often with the use of certain antibiotics. You and your doctor need to first discuss the type of colitis you have (just saying that you have colitis is not specific enough of a diagnosis for a physician), and then discuss your treatment and possible "cure" if any, for the specific type of colitis.

When should I contact a health-care professional about colitis?

If a person has diarrhea that does not resolve in a few days, blood in the stool, increasing abdominal discomfort and/or pain or early signs of dehydration they should seek medical care urgently.

Symptoms of dehydration include

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Medically Reviewed on 10/4/2018
REFERENCE: Piccoli, D., MD. "Colitis." Medscape. Updated: Oct 02, 2017.