Information for Patients
Germs, or microbes, are found everywhere - in the air, soil, and water. There are also germs on your skin and in your body. Many of them are harmless, and some can even be helpful. But some of them can make you sick. Infectious diseases are diseases that are caused by germs.
There are many different ways that you can get an infectious disease:
- Through direct contact with a person who is sick. This includes kissing, touching, sneezing, coughing, and sexual contact. Pregnant mothers can also pass some germs along to their babies.
- Through indirect contact, when you touch something that has germs on it. For example, you could get germs if someone who is sick touched a door handle, and then you touch it.
- Through insect or animal bites
- Through contaminated food, water, soil, or plants
There are four main kinds of germs:
- Bacteria - one-celled germs that multiply quickly. They may give off toxins, which are harmful chemicals that can make you sick. Strep throat and urinary tract infections are common bacterial infections.
- Viruses - tiny capsules that contain genetic material. They invade your cells so that they can multiply. This can kill, damage, or change the cells and make you sick. Viral infections include HIV/AIDS and the common cold.
- Fungi - primitive plant-like organisms such as mushrooms, mold, mildew, and yeasts. Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection.
- Parasites - animals or plants that survive by living on or in other living things. Malaria is an infection caused by a parasite.
Infectious diseases can cause many different symptoms. Some are so mild that you may not even notice any symptoms, while others can be life-threatening. There are treatments for some infectious diseases, but for others, such as some viruses, you can only treat your symptoms. You can take steps to prevent many infectious diseases:
- Get vaccinated
- Wash your hands often
- Pay attention to food safety
- Avoid contact with wild animals
- Practice safe sex
- Don't share items such as toothbrushes, combs, and straws