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The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

How Infection Works

Types of Microbes

The microorganisms, or microbes, that can cause disease come in different forms. Viruses and bacteria are probably the most familiar because we hear so much about them. But fungi, protozoa, and helminths are also big players in the story of infectious disease. Learn more about each of these five main categories, as well as a recently discovered one: prions.

Viruses

Viruses

Viruses are unable to reproduce until they invade and commandeer living cells.

Influenza, measles, and the common cold are just some of the diseases caused by viruses. What is a virus and how is it different from other microbes?

More about viruses

Bacteria

Bacteria

Bacteria come in three shapes: spherical, rodlike, and curved.

Bacteria are single-celled organisms that have been around for billions of years. Discover their important characteristics.

More about bacteria

Other Microbes

Other Microbes

Bread mold and hookworm, both infectious agents, are neither bacteria nor viruses.

Viruses and bacteria may be the most recognizable of the microbes that can cause infectious disease. But there are several other varieties. Learn about them here.

More about other microbes

Explore Other Topics

What do you know about infectious disease?

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the number of people in the world has: 

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Since the beginning of the 20th century the number of people in the world has more than quadrupled—from 1.6 billion to nearly 7 billion—and world population is expected to rise to well over 9 billion by 2050.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Since the beginning of the 20th century the number of people in the world has more than quadrupled—from 1.6 billion to nearly 7 billion—and world population is expected to rise to well over 9 billion by 2050.

  • Correct!

    Since the beginning of the 20th century the number of people in the world has more than quadrupled—from 1.6 billion to nearly 7 billion—and world population is expected to rise to well over 9 billion by 2050.

Infectious Disease Defined

Antibodies

A class of drugs used to kill or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms. Typically antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria, but in some cases they are also used against other microorganisms, such as fungi and protozoa.

View our full glossary

National Academies

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