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What is Infectious Disease?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Infectious disease is disease caused by a pathogen which enters the body and triggers the development of an infection. These diseases have a range of causes, and they can be found all over the world. These diseases are considered contagious or communicable, meaning that they can be passed from person to person. It is also possible for such diseases to spread indirectly through unhygienic conditions, or from animals to people, in which case they are known as zoonotic diseases.

A variety of pathogens can be responsible for infectious disease, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoans, and prions. Within these large categories of infectious organisms, there are numerous modes of transmission and a colorful assortment of symptoms, although surprisingly few organisms cause disease, when one considers the diversity of viral, bacterial, fungal, and protozoan life. In order to treat an infectious disease, doctors must be able to knock out the source of the infection and repair the damage it has done to the body. Many of these diseases make the body vulnerable to secondary infections, in which other organisms move in to take advantage of a weakened immune system, and this can be very problematic.

The study of infectious disease is known as epidemiology. Epidemiologists work to determine the source of the disease so that they can develop new treatment approaches. They also identify emerging outbreaks, which may develop into epidemics or pandemics, and areas where a disease is endemic, meaning that it occurs regularly. Malaria, for example, is endemic to some regions of Africa and Southeast Asia.

There are a variety of techniques which can be used to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Basic hygiene eliminates many organisms, as long as people wash their hands, use clean drinking water, and have access to clean medical facilities. Reduction of contact with vectors of zoonotic transmission such as insects and rodents can also reduce the incidence, as can education in communities where a particular disease is endemic.

Antivirals, antibacterials, and antifungals are all used in the fight against infectious disease, sometimes prophylactically to prevent infection in endemic areas. Doctors also use a variety of medical tests and screening tools to identify patients and at-risk populations, and additional medical treatments such surgery and minor procedures are also used in the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases.

Worldwide, infectious disease is a common killer, especially in developing nations. Respiratory infections are the deadliest diseases, followed by HIV/AIDS, diarrheal diseases, tuberculosis, and malaria. Many of these conditions are fully preventable with minimal effort, making the high loss of life to things like diarrheal diseases in some regions of the world especially unfortunate.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Armas1313 — On Mar 03, 2011


Many diseases are caused by unhealthy conditions in the third world and are transmitted by animals because of bad practices. It is to be hoped that the third world will be enabled to deal with these negative practices for the betterment of the world in general. As we advance in terms of medicine, the more open we are with healthcare and the more we are charitable with our technological and medical capabilities, the better things will be for the world as a whole.

By dbuckley212 — On Mar 01, 2011

Advances are being made in the medical community and we are now at a place beyond where we have every been in terms of our ability to combat and suppress pandemics in the developed world. It is to be hoped that this expertise will spread to become commonplace in the poorest parts of the world, enabling people to live long, strong, and healthy lives for the betterment of humanity.

By BioNerd — On Feb 28, 2011

Infectious diseases are combated by inoculation or antibiotics. Inoculation and flu shots work against viruses by introducing a small amount of the virus to the body in advance, enabling the immune system to build itself up against it. Antibiotics are able to effectively stymie the growth of new bacterium.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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