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What exactly is a disease?

Yeah...you've been there, right? You tell someone you have a disease or a rare disease and there is a look of absolute horror! Suddenly, people think you're contagious and, if they touch you, they will find themselves ravished in pain and crippled. We've heard the story time and time again from people. So, we wanted to take a minute to define the difference so that maybe people will better understand just what "disease" means.


What is a disease?

Merriam_Webster defines disease as "an illness that affects a person, animal, or plant : a condition that prevents the body or mind from working normally." 

The medical definition on Merriam-Webster states "an impairment of the normal state of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that interrupts or modifies the performance of the vital functions, is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms, and is a response to environmental factors (as malnutrition, industrial hazards, or climate), to specific infective agents (as worms, bacteria, or viruses), to inherent defects of the organism (as genetic anomalies), or to combinations of these factors : sicknessillness—called also morbus

In other words, a disease affects the functions of the body but does not make it contagious. A disease in itself will not infect others or cause a pandemic. But, there are other kinds of diseases...
What is a contagious disease?

There is a difference between a basic disease that interrupts function and an infectious disease. 

So...we're going to stick with good 'ol Merriam-Webster for the definition: "an infectious disease communicable by contact with one who has it, with a bodily discharge of such a patient, or with an object touched by such a patient or by bodily discharges—compare"

Adding to the definition, Wikipedia tells us that "Usually, epidemics are caused only by contagious diseases, but occasional exceptions occur, such as with black plague. This is because epidemics may also be regarded in terms of proportion of people infected with a transmissible disease.


Something else to keep in mind is that "a 'contagious disease' is sometimes defined in practical terms of whether isolation or quarantine make sense as a public health response."
What is an infectious disease?

So, what is an infectious disease? The reliable and reputable Mayo Clinic website tells us the following:

"Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms — such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Many organisms live in and on our bodies. They're normally harmless or even helpful, but under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease.

Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person. Some are transmitted by bites from insects or animals. And others are acquired by ingesting contaminated food or water or being exposed to organisms in the environment.

Signs and symptoms vary depending on the organism causing the infection, but often include fever and fatigue. Mild complaints may respond to rest and home remedies, while some life-threatening infections may require hospitalization.

Many infectious diseases, such as measles and chickenpox, can be prevented by vaccines. Frequent and thorough hand-washing also helps protect you from infectious diseases."
No, you can't get a disease like Chiari or Syringomyelia or Tethered Cord or Empty Sella from being around someone who has it or even by sharing a smooch. But, what you can get from those who have a rare disease is a lesson in patience, a friend for life, and a whole lot of loyalty and love.

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