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What is the difference between an infectious and non-infectious disease?

Infectious and non-infectious diseases are very different. An infectious disease can be transmitted from one person to another, while a non-infectious disease cannot be spread through person-to-person contact. 

To help you better understand the difference between infectious and non-infectious diseases, we’ve defined and compared the two below.

What is an infectious disease?

Infectious diseases are caused by pathogenic micro-organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. These micro-organisms are contagious, meaning they can be transmitted from one person to another. 

Examples of infectious diseases include the common cold, COVID-19, SARS and tuberculosis.

What is a non-infectious disease?

Non-infectious diseases are not caused by pathogens and therefore cannot be spread from one person to another. Instead, non-infectious diseases are caused by factors such as genetics, malnutrition, environment and lifestyle. 

Examples of non-infectious diseases include cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy. 

What are the main differences between an infectious and non-infectious disease?

1. Infectious diseases are communicable, non-infectious diseases are not

Infectious diseases are contagious, meaning that a person can contract the illness if they are exposed to carriers of the disease.

As we have witnessed with the rapid spread of COVID-19, infectious disease can be easily transferred through direct contact. This includes when someone comes into contact with an infected person for a period of time, their body fluids, or surfaces that the disease carriers have touched. 

Non-infectious diseases, however, are non-communicable, meaning they cannot be transmitted through exposure to a carrier. Instead, they appear or grow due to factors such as gene mutations, malnutrition, environmental toxins and lifestyle.

2. Infectious diseases are caused by the transmission of a pathogen

Infectious diseases are transmitted from person-to-person through the transfer of a pathogen such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. A non-infectious disease cannot be transmitted through a pathogen and is caused by a variety of other circumstantial factors.

3. Prevention strategies for infectious disease focuses on stopping the spread

Infectious disease and non-infectious disease require different prevention strategies to protect individuals or groups from falling ill. 

Prevention strategies for infectious disease focus on isolating individuals who have the disease to protect the broader population, and vaccinating against known strains to prevent transmission. 

During a pandemic, or outbreak, certain measures may be taken to stop the spread, such as disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched. Individuals are also encouraged to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water, and to self-isolate if they develop signs or symptoms to prevent transmission.

4. Preventative measures for non-infectious diseases are lifestyle and contextually-focused

Preventative measures for non-infectious disease are focused on lifestyle choices and patterns, which have been identified as potentially effective through clinical research. You can reduce your risk of contracting Type 2 diabetes, for example, by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and consuming a balanced diet. 

Not all non-infectious diseases, however, can be prevented. Some can develop as a result of an individual’s genetic history, lifestyle or age. While you can prevent alcoholic liver damage by abstaining from drinking or consuming alcohol less frequently, the liver can also be damaged by exposure to hazardous chemicals and toxins.

Help stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases in developing countries

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that infectious disease is in the headlines throughout the world. COVID-19, however, is not the only infectious disease affecting developing communities in countries across South East Asia.  

In Papua New Guinea, for example, tuberculosis has had a devastating impact on the health system, which now also faces the threat of COVID-19

You can help stop the spread of infectious diseases. When you donate to our current appeal, your donation provides improved access to healthcare facilities, funds outreach clinics, trains healthcare workers and more. Please donate.

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