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About Infections

Infection is the invasion of a host organism's body tissues by disease-causing agents, their multiplication, and the reaction of host tissues to these organisms and the toxins they produce. Infectious diseases, also known as transmissible diseases or communicable diseases, comprise clinically evident illness (i.e., characteristic medical signs and/or symptoms of disease) resulting from the infection, presence and growth of pathogenic biological agents in an individual host organism.

Infections are caused by infectious agents such as viruses, viroids, and prions, microorganisms such as bacteria, nematodes such as roundworms and pinworms, arthropods such as ticks, mites, fleas, and lice, fungi such as ringworm, and other macroparasites such as tapeworms.

Classification

Bacterial infections are classified by the causative agent as well as the symptoms and medical signs produced.

Symptomatic infections are apparent, whereas an infection that is active, but does not produce noticeable symptoms, may be called inapparent, silent, or subclinical. An infection that is inactive or dormant is called a latent infection.

A short-term infection is an acute infection. A long-term infection is a chronic infection.

Contagiousness

Infectious diseases are sometimes called "contagious disease" when they are easily transmitted by contact with an ill person or their secretions (e.g., influenza). Thus, a contagious disease is a subset of infectious disease that is especially infective or easily transmitted. Other types of infectious/transmissible/communicable diseases with more specialized routes of infection, such as vector transmission or sexual transmission, are usually not regarded as "contagious," and often do not require medical isolation (sometimes loosely called quarantine) of victims. However, this specialized connotation of the word "contagious" and "contagious disease" (easy transmissibility) is not always respected in popular use.

Pathophysiology

There is a general chain of events that applies to infections. For infections to occur, a given chain of events must occur.[9] The chain of events involves several steps—which include the infectious agent, reservoir, entering a susceptible host, exit and transmission to new hosts. Each of the links must be present in a chronological order for an infection to develop. Understanding these steps helps health care workers target the infection and prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Disease

Disease can arise if the host's protective immune mechanisms are compromised and the organism inflicts damage on the host. Microorganisms can cause tissue damage by releasing a variety of toxins or destructive enzymes. For example, Clostridium tetani releases a toxin that paralyzes muscles, and staphylococcus releases toxins that produce shock and sepsis. Not all infectious agents cause disease in all hosts. For example less than 5% of individuals infected with polio develop disease[citation needed]. On the other hand, some infectious agents are highly virulent. The prion causing mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease kills almost all animals and people that are infected.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of infectious disease sometimes involves identifying an infectious agent either directly or indirectly. In practice most minor infectious diseases such as warts, cutaneous abscesses, respiratory system infections and diarrheal diseases are diagnosed by their clinical presentation. Conclusions about the cause of the disease are based upon the likelihood that a patient came in contact with a particular agent, the presence of a microbe in a community, and other epidemiological considerations. Given sufficient effort, all known infectious agents can be specifically identified. The benefits of identification, however, are often greatly outweighed by the cost, as often there is no specific treatment, the cause is obvious, or the outcome of an infection is benign.

Epidemiology

The World Health Organization collects information on global deaths by International Classification of Disease (ICD) code categories. The following table lists the top infectious disease killers which caused more than 100,000 deaths in 2002 (estimated). 1993 data is included for comparison.

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