Infectious Diseases (General)

What are Infectious Diseases?

Infectious diseases stem from living organisms including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. These are not to be confused with beneficial microorganisms that thrive in and on the human body.

These are harmful organisms that cause diseases and illnesses that can be life-threatening, but they can also be avoided through proper hygiene, vaccines and medical care. The causes and treatments for infectious diseases can greatly vary.

That is why it is imperative for the physician to figure out the type of microorganism causing the illness. A physical exam, a detailed account of symptoms and subsequent testing will enable the healthcare provider to determine a course of action to combat the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Infectious Diseases?

Although each infectious disease produces specific symptoms, some are most common and can be linked to a natural reaction of the body to the pathogens.

Symptoms include

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Aching muscles
  • Inflammation
  • Cough
  • Cramps
  • Low energy

Infectious Diseases Causes

Every infectious disease is caused by one of the several types of microscopic organisms referred to as pathogens. Most pathogens are parasites, meaning that they derive their nourishment from other organisms. Among the pathogens that cause infectious diseases are bacteria, protozoans, rickettsias, fungi, and viruses.

Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that live almost everywhere, from the air to the soil and water. Infection causing bacteria produce poisons that are harmful to the human body. Some of the infections caused by bacteria include tuberculosis, strep throat and urinary tract infection.

Even smaller than bacteria are viruses. These cause a wide range of infections, from the common cold to AIDS. Viruses are not living cells and as such they must interject their genetic code into normal, healthy cells in order to survive and multiply.

Rickettsias are microorganisms that resemble small bacteria. Like viruses, they can only survive and reproduce by invading the cells of the host organism. Most rickettsias inhabit the intestinal tracts of insects like mites, fleas, and ticks. They are passed on to humans through bites and cause infections such as typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

How are Infectious Diseases Treated?

Just as each infectious disease produces certain symptoms that are specific to that disease, treatment also varies.

Treatment includes

  • Antibiotics for bacterial infections
  • Rest
  • Fluids
  • Symptom relief
  • Proper nourishment
  • Antiviral medications for viral infections
  • Antifungal medications
  • Parasite fighting drugs
  • Letting the disease run its course
  • Hospitalization when necessary

Infectious Diseases Prevention

Hygiene is one of the most important, and cost-effective, measures of preventing infectious diseases. Thorough, and effective hand washing can help you to prevent most communicable infections such as cholera. Additionally, consumption of properly cooked foods, thoroughly cleaned fruits and vegetables and clean water can help you prevent most bacterial and protozoan infections. Next to personal hygiene is the age-old practice of covering your mouth when you sneeze or cough. This is important for preventing the spread of disease-causing pathogens.

Avoid sharing personal items like toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers and handkerchiefs since these are common sources of infectious agents like fungi, viruses and bacteria. As a rule of thumb, keep personal items to yourself.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are probably the most easily preventable infections. Prevent transfer of HIV causing virus or syphilis causing bacteria by being smart about safe sex. Other infection prevention mechanisms include vaccination, exercising caution with animals, especially wild and non-vaccinated domestic animals, and exercising caution while traveling.

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Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
January 24, 2018
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