Yes, tonsillitis is usually contagious.
Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, which is usually due to infection by viruses or bacteria. Doctors more often use the term pharyngitis, or inflammation of the pharynx (throat). In most cases of pharyngitis, the tonsils are also infected and inflamed.
Most cases of pharyngitis and tonsillitis are caused by viruses. These include the viruses that cause the common cold and influenza (flu), and less common viruses such as those that cause mononucleosis.
The most common bacterium causing pharyngitis is Streptoccocus pyogenes, the bacterium that causes strep throat. Many other less common bacteria can also cause pharyngitis.
Whether caused by viruses or bacteria, pharyngitis and tonsillitis are spread by close person-to-person contact. The contagious period varies between people and the exact bug that’s causing the infection. Strep throat is usually no longer contagious 24 hours after a person starts taking antibiotics. Some viruses causing pharyngitis may be contagious for more than a week, even after a person feels better.
In cases of strep throat, it’s a good idea to discard the ill person’s toothbrush and thoroughly rinse any oral appliances for a few days after starting antibiotics.
Since it’s not usually possible to know if it’s a virus causing tonsillitis or pharyngitis, it’s safest to avoid intimate contact (such as kissing) for about a week after recovery. Everyone in the home, including the person with tonsillitis, should use soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean their hands regularly during the illness.
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