Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Billions of people suffer from infectious diseases annually around the globe.
Some infectious diseases can be mild and self-limiting, while others can be life-threatening and require hospitalisation.
Some infections can be transferred from one person to another, while others can be transmitted by insects or animals. Consuming contaminated food and water or exposure to microbes in the environment can also cause infections.
Vaccination can help prevent certain infectious diseases like measles and chickenpox. Frequent washing of hands is another effective way of preventing infectious diseases.
Let us learn about the most common infectious diseases, their symptoms, and their causes.
Flu : Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the Influenza virus. It affects the nose, throat, and lungs. The symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, fever, and cough. It is usually self-limiting, and the patient recovers in a couple of days, but in people with a weakened immune system, the symptoms can get severe. When someone suffering from flu coughs or sneezes, the Influenza virus spreads in the air, where it remains in the droplets. If a healthy person inhales these droplets, they can also get infected. You can protect yourself from the flu by getting a flu vaccine every year.
E. coli : There are several harmless strains of Escherichia coli (or E. coli) that normally live in your gut and aid in digestion. But there are certain other strains that can cause gastroenteritis, resulting in abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting. Gastroenteritis is usually caused due to the consumption of contaminated food such as raw vegetables, undercooked meat, etc. If the symptoms do not resolve in a couple of days, the patient may need antibiotics.
Malaria : Malaria is one of the most common as well as one of the most deadly infectious diseases globally. It affects more than 500 million people and results in 1 to 3 million deaths annually. It is caused by a parasite, Plasmodium, and is transmitted through Anopheles mosquitoes. The common symptoms of malaria are fever along with shaking chills, sweating, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea may also be seen. Flu-like symptoms such as difficulty breathing and cough can also occur.
Hepatitis B : It is estimated that about 2 billion people across the world suffer from hepatitis B, which is one-quarter of the world’s population! Hepatitis involves inflammation of the liver, which is caused by the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). The symptoms include jaundice, nausea, and fatigue. Long-term complications can cause liver cirrhosis and even liver cancer. This virus can manifest itself long-term in the body and can become a chronic infection. Get a hepatitis B vaccine and protect yourself from this deadly infection.
Pneumonia : Pneumonia is the inflammation of air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The air sacs get filled with fluid or pus, which causes difficulty breathing, cough with phlegm, fever, chest pain, malaise, etc. Pneumonia can be caused by any microbes such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. It can become an issue of concern for infants, children less than 2 years, elderly patients above the age of 65, or people with a weak immune system.
Infectious diseases can be self-limiting or may require treatment with antibacterial, antiviral, or antifungal agents depending upon their pathogens. Currently, vaccines are available for several infectious diseases, and it is always advisable to protect yourself by getting vaccinated. Infectious diseases cause millions of deaths worldwide every year, and thus they should not be taken lightly. You must seek consultation with a general practitioner, Internal Medicine or Infectious Disease specialists and follow their advice.
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Some infectious diseases have been eradicated with the help of vaccinations. But there are others which have spread more, such as those transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas. With changes in the environment, these vectors can populate new areas and easily multiply in number. Similarly, with the world becoming a global village, people are always travelling between countries, and the spread of the infection is just a flight away. The coronavirus pandemic is a classic example of the global spread of an infectious disease.
Vaccination is the best preventive measure for infectious diseases for which vaccines are available. The simple hygiene of frequently washing hands with soap and water can also protect us from infectious diseases.
Currently, the infectious diseases which can be prevented by vaccination include diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, rubella, hepatitis B, influenza, pneumococcal infections, mumps, measles, Haemophilus influenzae type b infections. Vaccines for several infectious diseases are under development.