Infectious Diseases

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From the common cold to rare fungal infections like pneumonia, infectious diseases are everywhere, hence the name. Infectious diseases are concerning and annoying because of their communicability not only in the UAE but around the rest of the world too. As the name suggests, infectious diseases are quick to spread from one person to another and hence need the basic quarantining. Let’s cover everything one should know about infectious diseases including types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and insurance options. 

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What are Infectious Diseases?

Infectious diseases, by definition, are the ones caused by alien organisms such as bacteria and viruses. Many microorganisms already live inside the human body and are completely harmless for the most part. However, under certain conditions, some of these organisms can lead to diseases. Infectious diseases can spread from an infected person to a healthy one or via indirect methods like shared food and water. Some diseases may even spread from animals to humans if they have crossed the species barrier. One of the most recent examples of infectious diseases is the Covid-19 virus. It can only spread via direct contact of a person with another person but also via shared things like clothes, utensils, etc. 

Types of Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases can be divided into four parts as per the agent of infection that causes them. The four main types of infectious agents are – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Given below is a brief rundown of them all:

  • Bacterial: Bacterial diseases are caused by microorganisms called bacteria. Not all bacteria cause infectious diseases though. Many kinds of bacteria are actually used to produce items that we use almost every day such as curd or cheese. In addition to that, some bacteria live in your gut and aid in food digestion. However, some bacteria can be harmful to the body. These are classified as pathogenic bacteria. Bacteria can enter the human body via the mouth, nose, eyes, and genitals. Once they are inside the body, bacteria begin to reproduce at an incredible rate, thanks to their simple cell structure. They either release toxins to harm the human body (like typhoid) or settle in internal organs like lungs, kidneys or the brain and then spread throughout the body via the bloodstream. Antibiotics are the go-to treatment for bacterial infections. The prescribed drug can change as per the bacteria under consideration. Bacterial infections are not as hard to treat.
  • Viral: While bacteria are living organisms, viruses are not. Viruses are simple genetic information aka DNA wrapped in a layer of protein. Which means, they cannot reproduce on their own. Once they enter a living human (or any other species) body, they use the cell organelles of the humans to reproduce. Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot be identified by the infection-fighting antibodies in the blood. A special protein and T cells are required to make the body aware of its presence. Once aware, the immune system sends toxic cells to destroy the virus-infected cells in the body. The genetic information of the virus is then saved in the antibodies to auto-tackle the infection the next time. While antiviral drugs exist for many kinds of viruses, vaccines are the most-suited and preferred treatment for them. 
  • Fungal: A fungal infection is caused by microorganisms named fungi. Fungi are of two types – yeast and mould. While many kinds of yeasts are used to make several food items like bread, alcohol, beer, etc., some may cause diseases too. Both yeasts and mould can cause fungal infections in the human body. Fungal diseases are also referred to as mycoses. Anti-fungal medicines are used to treat these infections. 
  • Parasitic: A parasite is a living being. It stays alive by attaching itself to a host organism and them consuming the nutrients from it. The most commonly known parasitic infection can be malaria fever or tapeworm. If the parasites get enough time and nutrients in the host body, they may lay eggs as well. The eggs hatch and then give birth to more parasites, continuing the same cycle further. Anti-parasitic drugs are available to fight off these infections.

Infectious vs Contagious Diseases

Contagious diseases and infectious diseases are often used interchangeably. Infectious diseases, in simple terms, are all those diseases that are caused by microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. On the other hand, contagious diseases are those infectious diseases that can spread from one person to another via direct or indirect contact. Infectious diseases which spread from animals or insects to humans are not categorised as contagious diseases. So, any disease that can spread from direct coming in touch with a person like a handshake or kissing, or by using an infected person’s personal effects is contagious diseases. 

Symptoms of Infectious Diseases

The symptoms of an infectious disease can differ if the infection has been caused by fungi. However, in most cases, the symptoms of most infectious diseases are similar. Following are some of the common symptoms of infectious diseases:

  • Fever or high basal temperature
  • Muscle fatigue or pain
  • Persistent cough 
  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Trouble in breathing
  • Low oxygen levels
  • Formation of mucus in nose and throat
  • Rashes and/or swelling
  • Blurred vision

How Do Infectious Diseases Spread?

The causes of infectious diseases are evident – microorganisms. The main cause of concern remains to be how these microorganisms can get to us. Given below is a list of ways by which infectious diseases can spread:

  • Direct Contact: The most common way infectious diseases spread is by direct contact. There are several kinds of direct contacts that can lead to spreading of the infectious diseases in humans. Given below is a list and brief introduction of them all.
    • People to People: Be it a handshake or a cough, people to people spread infectious diseases is pretty. Take Covid-19 infection as an example. When an infected person comes in contact with a healthy person, the infection can spread. The modes of contact can be different. They can include, handshakes, sneezes, coughs, sex and kissing as well. The exchange of bodily fluids is the main point here. The person to person spread of disease is more likely since not every infected person actually shows symptoms and simply work as a carrier of the infection. 
    • Animals to People: From getting bitten by animals to scooping their waste, coming in contact with an infected animal and their bodily fluids is another way for infectious diseases to spread. Animal bites can even be fatal to some point at the least. 
    • Mother to Children: Viral infections like chickenpox can even be passed on to children from their mothers if they get infected during the pregnancy. The transfer of the infection depends on the timeline of the infection mostly. Infections that happen later in the term of the pregnancy have higher chances of getting passed on to the infant. Apart from that, infectious germs in the vagina may also get transmitted to the infant during birth. Other ways include transmission via breast milk or by the placenta. 
  • Indirect Contact: Indirect contact transfer of infectious diseases may include the transfer of germs from inanimate things like utensils, clothes, furniture, doorknob of a public door, etc. If the infected person uses anything that is frequently used by healthy people as well, the infection may transfer from one person to another. 
  • Insect Bite: Since parasitic diseases are also infectious diseases, insect bites also roll in as a potential transmission channel. Insects like mosquitoes can bite and transmit the malaria parasite directly into the bloodstream. A tick bite can cause lime disease. 
  • Food and Water: Several food items can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases. If a food item has been contaminated by a disease-causing organism, it can spread the said organism to the system of everyone who eats it. This means that food and water contamination leads to the mass transmission of infectious diseases. Unpasteurised fruit juice is an example of a food item that can spread infectious diseases. 

Diagnosis of Infectious Diseases

  • Laboratory Tests: Lab tests like blood tests, urine tests, throat swab cultures, stool samples and lumbar puncture can be used to determine the presence of an infectious disease-causing organism in the body. Blood tests can generally identify the presence of bacteria in the system while other tests like swab culture can be used for viral infection diagnosis. Stool samples are generally used to check the presence of a parasite in the body. A lumbar puncture or spinal tap is used to identify the infection that affects the nervous system. Cerebral fluid is extracted from the spinal cord and tested for the presence of infection. 
  • Imaging Scans: Generally imaging scans are not needed to identify an infection. However, infectious diseases can cause further complications which can be identified using imaging tests like x-rays and MRIs. 
  • Biopsies: Biopsies are often helpful in identifying fungal infections in the body. For example, pneumonia-causing fungi can be identified by taking a sample of infected cells from the lungs and examining it. A biopsy can also be used to identify the type of fungi causing the infection. 

Treatment for Infectious Diseases 

The course of treatment for infectious diseases mostly includes drugs and medications only. The medicines are prescribed as per the type of infectious diseases in consideration as well as the species of the microorganism that has caused it. Following are the kinds of medicines generally administered to control infectious diseases:

  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are the heart of any bacterial infection treatment. An antibiotic drug is designed to disrupt the functioning of the bacterial cells and stop them from reproducing any further. The first point of action of antibiotics is to attack the cell wall of the bacteria. After infiltrating the cells, the drugs stop the bacterial cells from rebuilding the cell wall and reproducing. The infectious bacterial cells slowly die since they cannot multiply or store energy to stay alive. 
  • Antifungals: Made specifically to tackle fungal infections, antifungal medicines work just like antibacterial medicines do. They tackle the fungi cells in the body, break down the cell wall and stop them from multiplying further. If the fungal infection has affected the skin, topical antifungal ointments can be used in combination with the drugs or standalone. 
  • Antivirals: Viruses works in a different way than bacteria. Where bacteria have their own mechanism to reproduce, virus depends on the cells in the host body they enter. A virus infiltrates the cell wall of a healthy cell and releases RNA and DNA which alters the cell functioning. Now the infected cell is programmed to function for the benefit of the virus. Since it’s the cell of our own body that is functioning for the virus, the immune system does not attack them. Antiviral drugs are designed to make the immune system aware and target antibodies to attach to the infected cells and destroy them. They also block the cell receptors and hence prevents the virus from attaching further to any healthy cells in the body. 
  • Anti-Parasitic: The antiparasitic drugs also work in the exact same way as the antibacterial and antifungal drugs work. They stop the growth of the parasites in the body and hence slowly destroy them in the process. 

If the infection persists and grows out of control, the patient may even have to get hospitalised. Life support equipment may also be needed to make sure the patient gets the help they need. Other additional support medicines like IVs may also be needed. 

Infectious Diseases Complications 

Some infectious diseases may cause symptoms like rashes, extreme fatigue and wheezing. Some infectious viral diseases may also cause cancers. An example here can be hepatitis B and C infection. The HPV virus infection may also be included in this list as it is known to cause cervical cancer, mostly in women. Complications related to infectious diseases often take the form of the same symptoms but in severe form. For example, a severe form of typhoid will have you fever-ridden constantly with quite a lot of stomach discomfort to handle. 

Prevention of Infectious Diseases

  • Get Vaccinated: Getting vaccinated is the sure-shot way of preventing most viral infections that happen to be highly infectious, like chickenpox. Vaccinations for several communicable infectious diseases are given as a part of the immunology program for infants and young children. Make sure your children have been vaccinated as per the most recent recommendations by the doctors and stay up to date on the upcoming ones as well. Prevention is the best cure after all. 
  • Wash Hands Regularly: While touching certain public items like door handles is inevitable, spreads of infectious diseases is not. Washing your hands regularly and properly can prevent the spread of infectious diseases to great extent. Wash hands when you come home from outside, after a meal and before a meal as well. Try not to touch your face with dirty hands. If you think you have come in indirect contact with an infected person, make it a point to wash your hands properly. Sanitise with alcohol-based sanitise if required. 
  • Stay In Bed: If you have been infected by an infectious disease like the flu, try and stay home, in your bed. It becomes your social responsibility to prevent the spread of infectious diseases as much as possible. You may have mild or no symptoms from the infection but others who get it from you may have it worse. So, stay home, rest, recover and only then meet other people. 
  • Take Food Safety Seriously: Preparing meals is a huge responsibility. The food you make may be eaten by a lot of people, primarily by your family. Always wash your hands before you start preparing a meal. Also, wash the utensils properly. If you are preparing a meal for an infected person, wash your hands after you have served them. Wash the utensil in hot water using a safe disinfectant. If you are preparing a kind of meat for a meal, be sure to cook it properly. Uncooked meat can transfer infections as well. Refrigerate and left-over food properly as per the requirements of the food items and the weather. Do not consume any food items left out overnight in the kitchen in hot and/or humid weather. 
  • Practise Safety Methods: Practise all kinds of safety measures you can, for example wearing face masks, practising safe sex, etc., in order to stop the spread of an infectious disease. 
  • Avoid Sharing of Personal Things: Personal hygiene items like razors should never be shared. Make sure that you separate every personal item you use from the ones used by your family or roommates. 
  • Travel Safely: Research the potential infectious diseases that are prominent in the place you plan to travel to. If there are vaccines available for the concerned diseases, take them. Also, carry emergency medicines to tackle not only unknown new infections but also common ones like the common cold and flu. Travel smart by being prepared every step of the way. 

Infectious Diseases and Health Insurance 

Most of the popular health insurance plans and providers in the UAE offer coverage for a number of infectious diseases. Some plans may exclude infections that may turn into a pandemic or epidemic as a general rule. Although it can be over-ridden as per the requirements of the hour. The main benefits you can avail of from health insurance plans include hospitalisation costs, room rent, pre and post hospitalisation services, daycare, rehabilitation and other common benefits included in your plan. The actual number of infectious diseases covered by the health insurance plan completely depends on the individual terms and coverage scope of each plan. It can differ for not only every provider but also different plans offered by the same provider. 

In a Nutshell 

Infectious diseases may sound like something to not worry about. However, they are anything but this. A few infectious diseases like the common cold are something we are used to now and get over in a week or two. But diseases like hepatitis B and C remain to be something one should be careful about and take seriously. If left untended, infectious diseases can lead to further troubles and complications. So, make sure you stay safe in the company of infected people as well as practice sanitation properly. Be aware of the services that your health insurance plan offers so that you know what to expect in a given situation.

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