What is an Infectious Disease
Infectious diseases can come in many forms. Knowing how these diseases spread is the key to staying healthy and infection-free. These infectious diseases are caused by small organisms, such as bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. Although we often have harmless forms of these organisms in our bodies at any moment, there are certain strains that can cause the body great damage.
Infectious diseases can originate and spread in various ways. Some infections can be spread by insect or animal bites or can simply be spread from one person to the next. It is also possible to contract an infectious disease from contaminated food or water.
Symptoms of infectious diseases:
Symptoms will vary from illness to illness, but nearly all infectious diseases share at least two symptoms: fever and fatigue. Some infections can simply work their way out of your system if you allow yourself a few days of rest at home, whereas some can be much more serious and will require hospitalization and medication. Each infectious disease has its own subset of symptoms, but a general guideline to symptoms of infectious diseases can include:
- Muscle aches
When to seek medical attention:
- You have been bitten by an animal
- Have been coughing for a week or more
- Have sudden vision problems
- Experiencing swelling or a rash
- Have severe headaches accompanied by fever
- Have unexplained or prolonged fever
- Are having trouble breathing
Causes of infectious diseases:
Infectious diseases can be caused by various things:
- Bacteria: One-cell organisms which are responsible for illnesses such as urinary tract infections, strep throat, and tuberculosis.
- Viruses: These organisms are even smaller than bacteria and can cause something as mild as the common cold to something as severe as HIV/AIDS.
- Parasites: Many very serious infections, such as malaria, can be spread via parasites. Parasitic infectious diseases can also be spread to humans from animal feces.
- Fungi: Skin disease like athlete’s foot and ringworms are caused by fungal infections. Other more serious infectious fungi can affect the lungs or nervous system.
The easiest way to contract an infectious disease is to come in contact with an infection person or animal. Three of the most common ways to contract an infectious disease through direct contact are:
- Person to person: Direct transfer of bacteria, viruses, etc. from one person to another person is the most common way to contract an infection. It is very easy to catch something if you are touched, kissed, coughed on, or sneezed on by an infected individual.
- Animal to person: Getting bitten or scratched by an infected animal is another common method of disease contraction. These can also turn fatal. It is also possible to contract an infection by handling feces of an animal that may have an infection, through acts like scooping a litterbox or cleaning and barn.
- Mother to fetus: A mother can easily pass on infectious diseases to her unborn child. Some bacteria can be passed through the placenta, as well as can be contracted from the vagina during childbirth.
Many germs can be picked up through indirect contact. Examples of indirect contact would include contracting germs by touching infected doorknobs or tabletops. You can easily become infected if you touch a faucet after someone with the flu has used it, and then proceeding to touch you mouth, eyes, or face.
Contaminated food and water allows for widespread contamination with many infected victims. For example, E. coli can live within undercooked meat or unpasteurized juices.
Insects such as mosquitoes, ticks, and lice can make reliable carriers for some infectious diseases. Known as vectors, these carriers can deliver diseases like West Nile, malaria, and Lyme disease through one bite.
You always run the risk of catching an infectious disease if your immune system is compromised or functioning to its full capacity. Some factors that may decrease the efficiency of your immune system can include:
- You have HIV or AIDS
- You are currently taking steroids, anti-rejection medication (for organ transplants), or any other drug that would actively suppress your immune system
- You have a disorder that affects your immune system e.g diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease
Most infections are easily dealt with, having only minor complications. Some infections can become life-threatening, such as meningitis, AIDS, and pneumonia. Some infections can also leave you with a lifetime risk of certain cancers, including:
- Hepatitis B and C have been linked to liver cancer
- Helicobactor pylori has been linked to stomach cancer and peptic ulcers
- Human papillomavirus has been linked to cervical cancer
Infections can enter your body through:
- Inhaling airborne germs
- Sexual contact
- Ingesting contaminated food or water
- Skin to skin contact with an infected person
- Mosquito or tick bites
Tips in decreasing risk of contracting infectious diseases:
- Get Vaccinated: Immunization has been proven to substantially reduce your risk of contracting infectious diseases. Staying up to date on your and your children’s vaccines is one of the best ways to ensure good health.
- Wash Your Hands: Always keep your hands clean. It is very important to wash your hands before and after preparing food, before eating, and after every restroom visit. Try to keep your hands away from your mouth, eyes, and face in general, as these are the easiest places to contract bacteria.
- Stay Home When Ill: If you are vomiting, have diarrhea, or have a fever, it is best for you and everyone else if you stay home. You need your rest, and others do not need to be exposed to any possible illnesses. If your child displays these symptoms, it is important that they stay home from school as well.
- Practice Safe Sex: If you or your partner has had a history of STIs/STDs or high-risk behavior of contracting either, it is best that a condom is used.
- Do Not Share Personal Items: Always use your own razor, toothbrush, and hairbrush. Do not share utensils or drinking glasses.
- Prepare Food Wisely: It is important to keep your workspace clean and disinfected whenever cooking. Always cook food to its appropriate temperature to ensure that any bacterium within these foods will not survive the heat.
- Travel Wisely: Always check with your doctor about any specific vaccinations you may need if you are traveling out of the country.