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What is an Airborne Disease?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An airborne disease is one that can be transmitted through the air. Typically, these diseases travel on dust particles or respiratory droplets by way of sneezes, coughs, and even laughter and speaking. Sometimes, close contact with an infected person or some other carrier of the disease is all that’s necessary for airborne contamination. Common ways to prevent these diseases include receiving vaccines and avoiding contact with an infected person. Treatments vary depending on the disease, but most are curable with certain medications and rest.

Some of the most common examples of airborne diseases include influenza, chickenpox, and Newcastle diseases. Although these diseases can cause serious harm and even death for some patients, they’re usually easily curable if diagnosed and treated in time. More life-threatening airborne diseases include meningitis, anthrax, tuberculosis, and smallpox, though vaccines have advanced such that these diseases can be prevented.

Many of these diseases can be prevented with vaccines. For example, it’s common for people in some countries to receive influenza vaccines, or flu shots, each year. Depending on the disease, these vaccines might be updated as the strains change. Of course, sometimes prevention is a matter of prior exposure to the airborne disease. Such is the case with people who contract chickenpox when they’re young and avoid catching the disease again for the rest of their lives.

Aside from vaccines and prior exposure, the most common way to prevent disease is to avoid contact with an infected person. An infected person can isolate himself until he is well. This might mean staying home from work or school or living in different parts of the home until the disease is gone. A barrier can be created if at least the infected person or the healthy person wears a mask until the disease is cured. If isolation and masks are impossible, simple ways to prevent airborne contamination include covering one’s mouth during a cough or sneeze and increasing a room’s ventilation.

Treatment for an airborne disease depends on the disease itself. In most cases, doctors will prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medications. For some airborne diseases, like chickenpox and influenza, a regimen of rest, fluids, and fever- and pain-reducing medications works well. In some cases, the infected person might be hospitalized and given fluids and intravenous antibiotics or antiviral medications. Such patients might include young children, elderly adults, and those whose immune systems are not able to fight the disease.

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Discussion Comments
By anon936509 — On Mar 01, 2014

Samurai Virus Buster is excellent. I always use it to keep away from airborne diseases. I cruise a lot and go on trips and to people houses. I highly recommended this one.

By anon934691 — On Feb 21, 2014

I use to catch a cold or flu virus about once or twice a year. But ever since I started using Samurai Virus Buster. I have not caught these viruses. I have honestly not had a cold or flu virus for the last two years! This is an excellent product that I will continue to purchase and recommend for the rest of my life.

By nony — On Feb 01, 2012

@NathanG - We had quite a scare at our office once when a couple of people were diagnosed with the bird flu, which is one of the sicknesses on the airborne diseases list.

I honestly don’t know if that’s what it was – this was happening when there was a lot of publicity in the news about this kind of flu. Personally I think it was just regular flu, but what do I know.

They were told to stay home, which they did, but some people in the office were in sheer panic and paranoia. They were spraying this antibacterial stuff all over the place and washing themselves over and over. The episode passed after a couple of weeks and life returned to normal. I think you should just stay up on all your vaccines and not worry about what strain of flu you have.

By NathanG — On Jan 31, 2012

@Mammmood - I lived in Asia for a few years, and unfortunately airborne diseases were quite common. Diseases caused by bacteria, including the common flu, were quite widespread.

In that part of the world I think it was mainly because there was a lack of proper cleanliness in some of the water and drainage systems. Many times it felt like disease was constantly in the air.

What surprised me is that doctors would prescribe antibiotics, as is standard practice, but they rarely prescribed a full course of medicine. Instead of a week or two weeks of medication as would be standard here, they would give you pills for a few days. I never understood that because I thought that your body would become resistant to the antibiotics if you did that.

By Mammmood — On Jan 30, 2012

@SarahSon - Yeah, I got chicken pox when I was younger. I was at school with a big, red rash all over me that made me feel very uncomfortable. The teacher sent me to the nurse, and the nurse sent me home with a note that read, “Chicken pox. Go home!” I still remember that note. I always got the impression the nurse wanted me out of her clinic as soon as possible.

This was before they had vaccines to make things like chicken pox less common. None of my kids have ever gotten it, fortunately.

By shell4life — On Jan 30, 2012

I got extremely ill from rotavirus when I was nine years old. Since the disease was airborne, I had to be isolated, so the only people who could visit my hospital room were my parents.

I woke up one night vomiting profusely and having horrible diarrhea at the same time. I was doing both so frequently that my parents feared I would become dehydrated in a short time, so they took me to the hospital.

There, I received a shot to reduce my nausea and intravenous liquids. I had to stay there for five days, and though some of my relatives sent gifts like teddy bears and balloons, they were not allowed to visit.

Now, there are vaccines available for rotavirus. I wish there had been one back in my day.

By Oceana — On Jan 29, 2012

I remember getting the flu when I was fourteen. My teachers actually encouraged me to stay home from school so that I couldn't spread it around.

I was off an entire week, but I spent the whole time out of my head and resting in bed. I had a fever, so I stayed a little loopy and confused.

That was likely the sickest I have ever been. I don't even remember a lot of that week, because I think the fever blurred it out.

I had to miss the school dance that weekend, too, because even though I felt better, my mother thought I should get extra rest. I had a date lined up for it, but my mother said I would only make him sick if I went.

By seag47 — On Jan 29, 2012

@honeybees – I have two friends who would agree with you on the danger of flu shots. However, I have only had good experiences with them.

Every year that I have gotten the flu vaccine, I have gone the entire winter without getting so much as a cold. Given the past poor state of my immune system in winter, this is miraculous.

However, during seasons when I have skipped the vaccine, I have gotten at least three major colds or respiratory infections. For me, the flu shot is a guarantee of a healthy winter.

I come in close contact with the public every day at work, so I have ample chances to catch airborne diseases. Getting the vaccine is essential to my health.

By orangey03 — On Jan 28, 2012

@julies – I always keep hand sanitizer with me when I am on the road, because you never know when public restrooms will be out of soap. I admit to using it obsessively in situations like these, but I am afraid I may be doing myself more harm than good.

By using antibacterial hand sanitizer often, I could be making bacteria resistant to the stuff. If this were to spread from my hands to other people, then their hand sanitizer would no longer work, and it might even contribute to the strength of the bacteria.

I think I am going to start carrying liquid hand soap with me in my purse instead. Every public restroom at least has running water, so I will be able to clean my hands without causing any harm.

By honeybees — On Jan 27, 2012

@julies - I agree that washing your hands is very important. I also think there has been much more awareness about airborne diseases than there was in the past.

Anytime there is a big scare like the swine flu, you hear of all the things you need to do to protect yourself and those around you.

This is when people were encouraged to sneeze or cough into their arm instead of their hand. This really makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Instead of the germs going to your hand, which you will use to touch everything, they will be absorbed into your arm or clothing.

I still have mixed emotions about the flu shot though. I am young and have a strong immune system. More than once I have received a flu shot and then came down with a horrible case of the flu.

The years I decided against getting a flu shot, I never got the flu. I know many professionals would disagree with this thinking, but I am not completely convinced on the flu shots yet.

By julies — On Jan 26, 2012

I think one of the best ways to avoid communicable diseases like the flu or common cold is to wash your hands on a regular basis.

The first thing I do when I get home from anywhere is to thoroughly wash my hands. Even though I know it won't work 100% of the time, I think it can really cut down on how often you pick up something like a common airborne disease.

The times I think about this the most is when I am confined to a small space like an airplane or elevator. There just isn't any place for the germs to go if someone close to you is sneezing or coughing.

There is no way you can live without coming into contact with germs and viruses, but I try to prevent them as often as I can. I always keep some hand sanitizer with me when I know it isn't convenient to wash them.

By SarahSon — On Jan 25, 2012

@LisaLou - When we were young we had a similar experience except it was with the chicken pox. Once someone in a family or school gets a contagious airborne disease like this, it can spread like an epidemic.

When the chickenpox started going around my school, my parents didn't try to keep us from getting it. They figured we would eventually get them anyway, and it was better to have them when you were young than to get them when you were older.

Chickenpox was one of the common diseases when I was younger. I don't think this vaccine has been used as long as the mumps vaccine. Three of my four kids had the chickenpox when they were younger.

My youngest one is the only one who had a vaccine for it.

By LisaLou — On Jan 25, 2012

When I was a kid I learned how quickly and easily an airborne disease can spread. I woke up one Christmas morning with a sore throat, fever and my cheeks were swollen.

This was before they had a vaccine for the mumps, and right away my parents knew this is what I had. Because the house was full of cousins who had not had the mumps yet, I was confined to my room for the day.

This was not a fun way to spend Christmas. All of my cousins and siblings eventually ended up getting the mumps anyway, but we thought we were doing the right thing at the time.

Mumps is one of the viral diseases that you don't hear about much anymore because most kids are now vaccinated against it. Come to find out this disease could be spread 3-6 days before my symptoms even showed up.

This means all the kids who ended up getting the mumps that day probably would have got them whether I was confined to my room or not.

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