What is the difference between infectious and contagious


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Have you ever wondered if infectious is the same as contagious? If so, and you still don’t know the answer, you can read this article.

Although in everyday language one term or the other is sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences between infectious and contagious. However, both terms also have their similarities, since both types are caused by pathogens.

In fact, contagious diseases are considered to be infectious, but not all infectious diseases are contagious. The biggest difference between them has to do with transmission from person-to-person contact. We will look at this in more detail below.

Infectious diseases

According to a variety of factors, such as the organs affected, the moment in which they appear or other criteria, there are different types of diseases: autoimmune, neurological, endocrine, skin, blood, pregnancy, degenerative, neoplasms , among other.

In particular, we speak of infectious diseases to refer to those that are caused by a pathogen that enters the body, triggering a series of reactions. This process is what is known as infection.

types of infections

Diseases have different causes and may or may not be contagious.

In turn, infections can be of various kinds, depending on the pathogenic microorganisms or germs that produce them; in this sense, they are distinguished:

  • Bacterial infections: caused, as the name implies, by bacteria; some examples of this type of diseases can be streptococcal pharyngitis (group A β-hemolytic streptococcus); gastroenteritis (Campylobacter jejuni, E coli, Salmonella, Shigella or Staphylococcus, among others), pneumonia (Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) and Streptococcus pneumoniae); or otitis (Haemophilus influenzae (not typeable) and Streptococcus pneumoniae).
  • Viral diseases: caused by viruses such as HIV, HPV, herpes, flu, mononucleosis, conjunctivitis.
  • Mycoses: caused by fungi; This is what happens with Tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), candidiasis, aspergillosis.
  • Parasitic diseases: toxoplasmosis, Chagas disease, leishmaniasis, malaria, pinworms and others.

form of transmission

Now, pathogens can enter the body in various ways; among these it is possible to distinguish:

  • Through the bite of an insect or other animal, called an “agent” (this is the case of dengue).
  • Consumption of contaminated water or food, as occurs in gastroenteritis.
  • An open wound can be a doorway for bacterial skin infections.
  • Contact with a sick person; This is the case that we will see below.

contagious diseases

As has been seen, contagious diseases are a class within infectious diseases. In fact, it could be said that this constitutes a first difference between them, albeit partial.

Likewise, in the previous section it was also mentioned that in contagious diseases the transmission occurs directly between individuals, by contact of a sick person with a healthy one.

The resemblance between the words contact and contagion, in this context, speaks for itself. However, an additional distinction can still be made with respect to the transmission of these pathologies.

It is said that there is direct contagion when people come into contact; this can occur through secretions (coughing or sneezing); if there is exchange of fluids (saliva or others); when touching open wounds; etc.

For its part, indirect contagion occurs when someone uses an object belonging to the sick person; For example, athlete’s foot can be transmitted by sharing shoes or other clothing. Some examples of contagious diseases, in addition to those mentioned, are colds and flu, HPV, herpes and hepatitis A, among others.

Similarities and differences between infectious and contagious

Next, we will delve into the similarities and differences between infectious and contagious, in relation to various aspects, such as treatment, symptoms and others.

1. Causal agents

The same types of agents that we have already seen can produce various infectious or contagious pathologies, interchangeably. In this sense, there are no major differences between the two.

In other words, there may be infections of bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites, which are transmitted from one person to another. However, food poisoning can only be infectious.

This is the case of diseases such as cholera, produced by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, whose main route of transmission is the consumption of water or the intake of contaminated food, direct contagion from one individual to another being rare.

2. Symptoms

Signs of infectious and contagious diseases can also be similar. Within them, there are some non-specific or general symptoms, and other more particular ones.

For example, in those caused by viruses or bacteria, fevers and general malaise manifest. This is observed equally in viral gastroenteritis as in tonsillitis, the latter being contagious, but the former not.

3. Treatment

As it happens with respect to symptoms, there are usually not many differences between infectious or contagious when it comes to treatments. In some cases, antibiotics, antivirals or antifungals are applied, if they are of bacterial, viral or fungal origin, respectively. Other medications, such as pain relievers, are also given.

4. Prevention

Allergy shots are varied
Getting vaccinated is one of the best forms of disease prevention.

The issue of prevention is where we will observe the greatest differences between infectious and contagious. Although some care measures, such as hand washing, may be common to both, there are some that are particular.

For example, washing food, cooking it well before eating it, avoiding eating street food, consuming only distilled water, among others, are measures to avoid some digestive system infections. On the other hand, since the transmission in the case of contagious diseases is from individual to individual, the measures include:

  • In the case of sick people, cover yourself with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • For their part, healthy people should avoid or reduce direct contact with sick people.
  • Wear gloves and face mask (chinstrap) if we are going to be with sick people.
  • Do not share utensils or clothing or footwear.
  • Disinfect utensils, as well as spaces for common use and elements exposed to fluids and secretions (fomites): tables, chairs, doors.
  • Use condoms to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Finally, there are vaccines for infectious and contagious diseases, such as chickenpox.

5. Public health

Finally, on the subject of public health, there are also differences between infectious and contagious diseases in terms of coping strategies and, even, a possible declaration of a health emergency, since contagious diseases can often spread more quickly.

hygiene first

Knowing the differences between infectious and contagious can be a valuable tool to know how to act, with a view to preventing the transmission of such diseases. In this order of ideas, there are various actions that we can undertake.

But they all have a common denominator: hygiene. Hygiene with respect to our daily cleanliness, with respect to the food we eat, the objects we touch, the care of our children… At all times we must be attentive to potential causes.

In the case of these pathologies, the agents that produce them are outside our body. But while they can find ways in, we also have plenty of ways to close the door on infection.

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