What Are Infectious Diseases?

Infectious diseases are illnesses caused by the spread of microorganisms in the body.

They can be transmitted by direct contact with a person who is sick, by indirect contact — touching a doorknob a sick person has touched, for example — by an insect or animal bite, or through contaminated food, water, soil or plants. How these infections spread depends on the type of organism.

Infectious diseases are extremely common, with some, like influenza, striking more often than others. The immune system effectively protects the body from many infectious germs, but sometimes when they grow to a number too large for the immune system to fight, the infection becomes harmful to the body. The effect the infection has on the body depends on the organism and varies widely. Even a small amount of infectious bacteria can seriously affect a person whose immune system is compromised. For example, pneumonia symptoms can be severe and sometimes even life-threatening, especially for children and elderly adults, but bacteria sinus infection symptoms are often treated quickly and effectively with antibiotics. Signs of infection can also vary, but fever, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle aches and coughing are common symptoms of many infectious diseases.

The immune system itself, while indispensable and often remarkable, can sometimes react badly to an invasion and make the problem worse. Sepsis is caused by the body’s dangerous and potentially life-threatening response to an infection. Sepsis symptoms include fever and chills, low body temperature, rapid pulse, decreased urination, rapid breathing, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people recover from mild sepsis, but severe sepsis symptoms, like changes in mental ability, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness often require treatment in an intensive care unit. Untreated, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death.

Although anyone can get an infectious disease, people with medically compromised immune systems are at a higher risk, including those with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other conditions that affect the body’s ability to defend itself against infections. Elderly people and those who are malnourished are also at an increased risk of acquiring an infectious disease.

In serious cases, some people with an infectious disease may need long-term care to fully recover. This includes, but is not limited to, people with severe sepsis symptoms, complications of pneumonia and long-lasting kidney infection symptoms.

Infectious Disease Complications

Complications from infectious diseases are common. Most, like skin rashes or fatigue, are relatively mild and resolve as the infection subsides, but some infections can have potentially life-threatening complications like encephalitis, septicemia and bacteremia — a potential complication of pneumonia. These complications are serious medical conditions that can lead to organ damage and respiratory or renal failure. Recovery often includes treatment from a variety of caregivers over an extended period of time.

Several bacterial, viral and parasitic infections have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, because they either cause chronic inflammation, disrupt the biochemical signaling which controls the rate of cell growth, or weaken the body’s innate ability to fight cancer.

These infections include:

  • Human papillomavirus
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Epstein-Barr virus
  • Human t-cell leukemia/lymphoma virus type 1

People with infectious diseases may also suffer from complications related to IV therapy, which is used to deliver antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic medications to treat these infections. Complications of IV therapy can include drug reactions, phlebitis, infiltration, extravasation and line-related infections on clots on the tip of the IV catheter.

Infectious Disease Treatment and Recovery

The causes, symptoms and complications of infectious diseases create a very complex medical picture that may require intervention from multiple medical disciplines. Kindred Transitional Care Hospitals take an interdisciplinary team approach to treating infectious diseases and their complications, resulting in fewer readmissions and more successful recoveries.

Kindred develops specialized infectious disease treatment plans for people suffering from:

  • Infected pressure ulcers
  • Bacterial infections
  • Post-surgical wounds
  • Cellulitis
  • Viral infections
  • Sepsis
  • Fungal infections
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Severe case of COVID-191

Most infectious diseases can be effectively treated and cured, but it can take time to fully recover and alleviate complications. If you or a loved one are suffering from an infectious disease, it’s important to have a specialized care team create an individualized treatment plan that enables you to achieve your recovery goals.

“Some microscopic organisms can wreak havoc on the human body, causing painful suffering and in some cases, long-term complications,” says Dr. Dean French, Chief Medical Officer. “When you have an infectious disease, you want to know that you have support from a team of physicians, specialists and caregivers who will provide the right type of care to minimize the effects of the disease, for as long as it takes to recover. That’s what patients get at Kindred Hospitals.”

Kindred Hospitals are recognized for our infection prevention2 efforts. Our dedication to getting every Kindred LTACH certified by the Joint Commission in respiratory failure and sepsis enhances our care for the complex medical needs of many patients with infectious diseases and other co-morbitities.

We provide expert care in the treatment and rehabilitation of medically-complex and post-intensive care patients who require continued care in an acute hospital setting, which may include continued intensive care and specialized rehabilitation. Our interdisciplinary team of clinicians can meet the needs of patients who have been in an ICU, critical care unit or who are chronically ill.

Success Spotlight: Vickie's Story

Vickie broke her arm at the same time that she came down with a serious flu strain that led to pneumonia. When she arrived at the hospital, it was discovered that she also had a severe staph infection and kidney failure, as well as an internal bleed in her digestive system.

With pneumonia complications and a very high fever, Vickie’s white blood cell count was alarmingly high. Her delicate condition was further complicated when she began to develop severe sepsis symptoms.

Over several months, Vickie was admitted to and released from several acute care hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, but she was not able to make progress toward recovery. Everything changed for Vicki at Kindred Hospital, where she received advanced respiratory therapy and rehabilitation. When she arrived, Vickie was very weak and struggled to make immediate progress, but with an attentive team of caregivers working together to help her regain her health, Vickie began to make steady improvements. Her progress motivated her to work harder, and she made great strides in her respiratory, physical and occupational therapy.

Just before Vickie left Kindred, she shared some thoughts on her ordeal and the care she received at Kindred Hospital. “This has been a long journey,” Vickie reflected, “from a broken arm to pneumonia complications and severe sepsis symptoms. But sometimes you just have to hold on to the seat of your pants and never give up. My daughter was my biggest supporter, always right there by my side. I’m so grateful for the amazing physicians, nurses and rehabilitation team that helped me get where I am today and made me hopeful for the future.”