Matthews Infectious Disease Specialists

Infectious Diseases Frequently Asked Questions

What is an infectious disease?
Infectious diseases are illness resulting from the presence of pathogenic microbial agents, including viruses, bacteria, fungi. Infectious diseases sometimes known as communicable diseases or transmissible diseases due to their potential of transmission from one person or species to another.

What are the most common infectious diseases? *
Common Cold
E. coli
Infectious Mononucleosis
Influenza (Flu)
Lyme Disease
Poliomyelitis (Polio)
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rubella (German Measles)
Salmonella Infections
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Toxic Shock Syndrome
Viral Hepatitis Overview
West Nile Virus

*source: University of Virginia Health System

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How are infectious diseases transmitted?
An infectious disease is transmitted from an infectious source. The most common means are through physical contact with contaminated people or objects (i.e. door knobs, elevator buttons, etc.), sneezing and airborne inhalation, contact with infected food, liquids, and body fluids.

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How do I to prevent getting an infectious disease.
Good hygiene will go far in the prevention of infectious diseases.  During the cold and flu season, avoid shaking hands with others.  Keep a hand-sanitizing wipe or lotion handy for use after touching door knobs, elevator buttons, grocery carts, etc.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth while in public.  Wash your hands often.

Avoid sharing drinks and utensils. Keep commonly shared areas of your home and office clean and sanitary.  Use anti-bacterial wipes or sprays to clean counters, desk tops, keyboards, telephone handsets/keypads, and coffee pot handles.  Wash dishes with soap - don't just rinse and leave to dry, especially in office break rooms.

Some infectious diseases are not so easily prevented.  In these cases, your safest defense is a vaccination which will allow your body to create anti-bodies to fight off the disease should you become exposed.

If you are planning on traveling to areas where you can be exposed to diseases such as Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (both tick-borne illnesses)  take the necessary precautions.  This goes for other diseases such as Malaria and SARS. In other words, know before you go.

Abstain from unprotected sex.  HIV/AIDS and other STDs are the most prolific infectious diseases in the world, yet this is one area that you can easily control and for which vaccinations are not available.

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How do I prevent spreading an infection disease.
If you are feeling ill, cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough to prevent the airborne spread of your germs.  Wash your hands before you touch something else.

If you work in a crowded environment where you are exposed to large groups of people, such as a school, call center, airport, etc., consider staying at home if at all possible until your symptoms pass.  It makes no sense for you to expose dozens if not hundreds of others, just to avoid a sick day or two.

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What do I need to know about infectious diseases when traveling outside the USA?
If you think you will need vaccinations for your trip, click on the CDC's Destinations List.  Ideally, you should visit your doctor or travel medicine provider 4 to 6 weeks prior to your trip as some vaccines take time to become effective. 

If you have altered immunocompetence due to illnesses such as diabetes or HIV, read Vaccine Recommendations for Travelers with Altered Immunocompetence, Including HIV in Health Information for International Travel or take a copy to your doctor.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, read the Immunizations section of Pregnancy, Breast-Feeding, and Travel in Health Information for International Travel or take a copy to your doctor.

If you are you traveling with infants or children, read the Vaccine Recommendations for Infants and Children section in Health Information for International Travel or take a copy to your doctor.

For more information about travel abroad, visit the Center for Disease and Prevention's Travelers' Health site.

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