When you hear the term “infectious disease” you may think of dramatic episodes of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. But while infectious diseases are often portrayed as rare cases with dramatic endings, they’re more common than you may think.
What is an Infectious Disease?
Infectious diseases occur when harmful organisms get into your body. Simply put, these are diseases caused by germs, bacteria, or viruses that get into your body. Infectious diseases can be spread from person to person.
Types of Infectious Diseases
There are a few different types of infectious diseases, based on the initial cause of the disease or how it is transmitted.
Viruses are tiny. They’re so small that they can’t reproduce on their own, so they get inside your existing cells and use them to make copies of themselves.
COVID-19 is an example of a viral infection. Other common ones are influenza (the flu), viral pneumonia, viral meningitis, and chicken pox.
Bacteria are made up of one cell. They exist all around us, and some even live inside your body and skin. Most bacteria are harmless, and some are even helpful, but there are also some bacteria that release toxins that make you sick.
Some examples of bacterial infections include bacterial pneumonia, food poisoning, pink eye, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Similar to bacteria, there are lots of different kinds of fungi. Many harmless fungi live on your skin, but if they become overgrown, or if harmful fungi get into your body, you can become sick.
Common fungal infections can include athlete’s foot, yeast infection, thrush, and ringworm.
Parasites use other bodies or organisms to live in. They can come in many different shapes and forms.
Parasitic infections are somewhat rare, but some common types include hookworms, pinworms, and giardiasis, which is caused by contaminated food or water.
Symptoms of Infectious Diseases
Because there are so many different types of infectious diseases, the symptoms can vary. However, there are some common symptoms you can watch for.
- Muscle aches
The Spread of Infectious Diseases
Different infectious diseases spread in different ways. The good news is that most infectious diseases are easily preventable. The most common places for bacteria or other pathogens to enter your body are your mouth, your nose, and cuts on your skin.
Common types of transmission include:
- From person to person, through coughing or sneezing
- Close personal contact like kissing or intercourse
- Sharing cups or utensils with others
- Touching contaminated surfaces like doorknobs or countertops
- From improperly prepared or contaminated food
Preventing Infectious Diseases
There are many steps you can take to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. One of the most effective methods of prevention is vaccinations.
Many types of infectious diseases, like COVID-19, chicken pox, influenza, and hepatitis A & B can be prevented through routine vaccinations from your healthcare provider. If you’re unsure if you’re up to date on your vaccinations speak with your provider.
Safe food handling is another way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Simple steps you can take include washing your fruits and vegetables before eating, cooking meats to a safe temperature, and keeping all food preparation surfaces (like counters and cutting boards) clean by washing them with soap and water after each use.
Other basic health practices can help stop the spread of infectious diseases. Washing your hands with soap and warm water can reduce bacteria on your hands by almost 60%. Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and regularly sanitizing surfaces also help stop the spread of germs.
If you do get sick, it is important to stay home from school or work while you are contagious.
Treating Infectious Diseases
The different types of infectious diseases require different types of treatment. For example, bacterial infections can usually be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections usually can’t be treated with antibiotics, but the symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter medications until you feel better.
Fungal and parasitic infections are treated with cause-specific treatments. This means that fungal infections are treated with anti-fungal medications, and parasitic infections are treated with anti-parasitic drugs.
With treatment, most people feel fine after being sick with an infectious disease.
Infectious diseases can come from a variety of sources, like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. These diseases can be spread through person-to-person contact, on commonly touched surfaces, or through improperly prepared food.
Some infectious diseases are preventable with vaccines, and others can usually be avoided by consistent hand washing and covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Infectious diseases are usually treatable with antibiotics or over-the-counter medicines.
If you’re experiencing symptoms like fever, aches, congestion, or stomach issues, see your provider for diagnosis and treatment options.