Thrush is an infection caused by an overgrowth of a yeast, known as Candida albicans, that naturally lives in the mouth and other parts of the body without causing any issues. It usually only affects babies, children, and adults with weakened immune systems or other health conditions.
Thrush is not contagious like the common cold or flu. If you’re exposed to someone with a Candida overgrowth, you shouldn’t worry about it developing into a thrush infection unless you have certain risk factors.
This article provides an overview on how thrush may be contracted, and how to prevent a potential thrush infection from occurring.
Can You Transmit Thrush to Your Baby?
The body’s immune system usually keeps naturally occurring Candida bacteria from overgrowing, but because babies’ immune systems aren’t fully developed in the first few months of life, they’re more susceptible to contracting a thrush infection when exposed.
Thrush can be transmitted from parent to baby in a few ways:
- Breastfeeding: It’s fairly common for babies to contract thrush while breastfeeding if there is an overgrowth of Candida yeast on a nursing parent’s nipples. For example, this can happen when a nursing parent is taking an antibiotic, a medication that kills off the bad and good bacteria in our bodies, allowing yeast to overgrow.
- Childbirth: Having a vaginal yeast infection during pregnancy can make it possible for the baby to contract thrush during childbirth. This is not as common as transmitting thrush to your baby during breastfeeding.
Can Babies Transmit Thrush to Breastfeeding Moms?
During pregnancy, the immune system goes through changes that can sometimes make you more prone to infections. Therefore, if your baby has thrush, there’s a strong chance it could be transmitted to you during breastfeeding. This causes a yeast infection of the nipples, also known as nipple thrush.
The thrush transmission from baby to breastfeeding parent is fairly common for a few reasons:
- Breastfeeding creates the perfect environment: Candida bacteria are more likely to thrive and overgrow in conditions where it’s warm and moist.
- Nipple trauma from breastfeeding: Irritations, cracks, and damage to the nipples can happen while nursing, making it physically easier for thrush to be transmitted.
- Antibiotic use after birth: Antibiotics may be prescribed to babies or new parents after childbirth for a variety of reasons, which ends up killing off bacteria that keeps the body’s normal amount of Candida yeast in check.
Babies and breastfeeding parents often find themselves in an ongoing cycle of transmitting thrush to each other. This is why experts recommend both parent and baby seek treatment as soon as possible when a thrush infection occurs.
Cycle of Thrush
Being caught in a cycle of thrush transmission during breastfeeding can be frustrating and challenging. It may ease your mind to remember that thrush in these circumstances is usually relatively mild and not dangerous for your baby. Talk to your healthcare provider or pediatrician about whether to continue or discontinue breastfeeding during this time.
Can Adults Transmit Thrush to Each Other?
Thrush is not contagious the way other infections—like a cold—can be. While unusual, it’s sometimes possible for adults to transmit thrush to each other in certain circumstances:
- Kissing or sharing food: If a person has an overgrowth of Candida in their mouth, that yeast can be transferred to another person’s mouth through kissing or sharing food. Whether the exposed person actually develops a thrush infection will depend on factors like medical conditions affecting the immune system, use of certain medications, and overall oral health.
- Oral sex: There is no strong evidence that thrush can be transmitted during oral sex. There appears to be a link between oral sex and thrush, but experts say this risk is actually tied to other factors that prompt the overgrowth of Candida.
Transmitting vs. Contracting
The actual Candida yeast many of us carry in our mouths can be transmitted to another person, but it won’t always develop into a thrush infection unless certain risk factors are present. For example, people who are immunocompromised or taking medications such as antibiotics or corticosteroids which alter the body’s natural bacteria have a higher risk of contracting a thrush infection after Candida exposure.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Some people have a higher risk of developing thrush after they’re exposed. Babies, children, older adults, and people who have conditions that affect the immune system are usually more susceptible.
For example, you may be more likely to get thrush if you:
- Have a weakened immune system
- Have a chronic condition such as cancer, diabetes, or HIV
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Are taking certain medications, like antibiotics or steroids
- Are using a corticosteroid inhaler
- Are receiving cancer treatment like chemotherapy or radiation
- Are a smoker
- Wear dentures or have an oral health condition like dry mouth
Contracting Thrush Without Exposure
Thrush happens when the natural balance of Candida yeast in the body is disrupted and starts to quickly overgrow. If there’s no exposure to another person with thrush, this can happen when health conditions, excessive stress, or medications that cause yeast to flourish disrupt this balance.
How Can You Prevent Thrush?
Experts recommend some steps to help adults prevent thrush, or at least reduce the chances of developing it. Prevention measures include the following:
- Avoid smoking
- Use antibiotics only when necessary
- Maintain your oral health, including proper denture wear and dry mouth treatment
- Rinse your mouth and brush your teeth after taking medications or using an inhaler
- Eat a balanced diet and reduce sugar intake
- Maintain routine health checkups if possible and accessible, particularly if you have a chronic health condition like diabetes
- Avoid contact with the saliva of someone with thrush, especially if you have risk factors for contracting the infection
You may also find the following tips helpful for preventing the cycle of thrush in babies or young children:
- Sterilize pacifiers, bottles, and teething toys
- Keep your nipples clean and dry between feedings
- Wash your hands often, especially after breastfeeding and diaper changes
Probiotic supplements help promote the good bacteria in your body, keeping yeast growth under control. Some research has shown that taking a probiotic regularly may help prevent thrush infections. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements, particularly if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
Thrush is not contagious like the common cold or flu for most healthy adults. A person who is exposed to an overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans won’t necessarily get a thrush infection, but they might if they have certain risk factors or are immunocompromised. Thrush is most commonly seen in babies, breastfeeding parents, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems.
A Word From Get Meds Info
If you’ve contracted a thrush infection, it’s usually not a cause for alarm, and treatment options are available. If you have recurring thrush infections, you may want to consider making an appointment with a healthcare professional. They can help you identify any factors that may be predisposing you to thrush infections, prescribe effective treatment, and refer you to a specialist if needed.