Like an enemy invader, bacteria and viruses can creep into the body, multiply their numbers, use up your own body's resources and try to take over the body system. When this happens, the body's immune system kicks in to battle the invaders, causing symptoms such as fevers, aches, phlegm and runny noses. This battle between the host immune system and parasite bacteria or virus is known as an infection.
There are two types of infections:
- Viral infection
Viral infections are caused by very small microorganisms that require a living host in order to multiply. They can live in animals, plants and people. When a virus invades, it takes over your own cells and uses it to reproduce more viruses. A viral infection is usually systemic, meaning it involves more than one part of the body or body system. Antibiotics cannot kill viruses.
Diseases that result from viruses: conjunctivitis, chickenpox, AIDS and influenza
- Bacterial infection
Most bacteria cause no harm and even help us. For instance, everyone has some bacteria in their intestines to help digest food. Unlike viruses, bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that can live in a wide range of environments. Classic symptoms of a bacterial infection include heat, redness, swelling and pain, especially at the site of the infection. Antibiotics are usually used to kill bacteria.
Illnesses caused by bacteria: tuberculosis, urinary tract infections.
In some cases, it is difficult to determine whether an infection is bacterial or viral such as in pneumonia, meningitis and diarrhoea.
Some of the regular infections which we come across include:
- Bird Flu
- Chikengunya Fever
- Hand Foot and Mouth Disease
- Hepatitis B
- Meningococcal Disease
- Rotavirus Gastroenteritis
How infections spread
Infections spread when bacteria or viruses are transported to another person or host. These germs can be tranmitted via these routes:
- Droplets in the air through sneezing, coughing, kissing, talking and spitting
- Insects (or vectors) that carry viruses that transmit malaria, dengue and yellow fever
- Contact with a person or object that is contaminated. Dirty clothes/linens, utensils or unsterilised hospital equipment can breed bacteria and parasites.
- Sexual intercourse can transmit infections such as HIV, syphilis and gonorrhea
- Blood transfer as in the case of drug users who share needle
Signs of an infection
If you're feeling out of sorts, fatigued and experiencing loss of appetite, headaches and fever, chances are, you have an infection. Signs of an infection also include:
- Chills and night sweats
- Body aches
- Pus, redness or swelling at an injury site
Prevent infection from spreading
Infectious diseases, particularly common ones such as the flu, hand-food-and-mouth disease and dengue fever can be easily prevented with simple hygiene measures.
- Practice responsibility: If you are unwell, stay at home and rest. Going to school or work could spread the germs. If you must go out, wear a medical face mask
- If caring for someone who is unwell, be sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after coming in close contact with him or her
- Don't share eating utensils or drinking glasses with someone who is unwell
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- If you have children, wash and disinfect toys and common surfaces frequently
Vaccination and Infection control
Another significant way to prevent the spread of infectious disease is to get vaccinated for that particular disease. Illnesses cannot spread if no one falls sick from them in the first place!
Consider getting vaccinated for these illnesses:
- Influenza vaccine - get your flu shot twice a year
- Rotavirus Gastroenteritis vaccine - prevents children from getting one of the most common causes of severe diarrhoea
- Hepatitis A & B vaccine - both protect against the hepatitis virus which can cause liver failure
- Chicken pox vaccine - adults, especially the elderly, who have not had the infection before
- Pneumococcal vaccine - prevents children from this severe infection that can cause complications such as pneumonia, meningitis and severe ear infection