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Infectious Diseases

Infectious Disease Overview

Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Mar 21, 2019
Last Modified Date: Mar 21, 2019
Published Date: Oct 17, 2017

Infectious Disease Testing

Girl wearing flu mask

An infectious disease is an illness that occurs when your body is invaded by a pathogen, such as a virus or bacteria. These pathogens may be present in food or water, in the environment, in the air we breathe or in bodily fluids of infected individuals, waiting to invade our bodies and cause sickness. Many infectious diseases have similar symptoms and effects, while others may produce few or no signs or symptoms. So how do you know if you have caught one of these diseases? Infectious disease testing can give you the answers you need, determining whether you have contracted an infectious disease, as well as the specific type of pathogens that have invaded your body.

What kind of infectious diseases are there?

There are different kinds of infectious diseases, depending upon the pathogen that causes them. Many are caused by viruses, which are microbes that invade cells in the body and use them to multiply, producing more viruses identical to themselves. Common examples of infectious viral diseases include:

  • The common cold
  • Flu
  • Chicken pox/shingles
  • Measles
  • Mumps
  • Rubella
  • Herpes
  • Hepatitis A,B and C
  • Polio
  • Mononucleosis
  • AIDS

In many infectious diseases, the pathogens that cause illness are bacteria. These are microscopic, single cell organisms that are found virtually everywhere. Many are beneficial to plants, animals and people, but about 1 percent of bacteria are harmful to humans, capable of causing disease. Common examples of infectious bacterial diseases include:

  • Salmonella
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • Lyme disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Meningitis
  • Strep throat
  • MRSA
  • Impetigo

In some infectious diseases, parasites are the pathogen that causes illness. Parasite are living creatures that need a host to survive. When that host is a person, they can develop a parasitic infection. Common infectious diseases caused by parasites include:

  • Trichomoniasis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Giardiasis
  • Malaria

If you suspect you have contracted an infectious disease, knowing exactly which one you have is very important to successful treatment. That's because medications used to treat these diseases typically target the specific pathogen that causes them – antibiotics for bacterial infections, for instance, or antiviral medications for certain viral infections. For this reason, infectious disease testing is typically done before treatment begins.

Laboratories generally use blood and/or urine tests, depending upon the specific disease tests performed, to detect and identify pathogens that cause infectious disease. Blood tests typically look for antibodies to certain pathogens in the blood, which can indicate infection, and urine tests generally look for specific pathogens in urine samples to confirm infection. Infectious disease panels test for several diseases at once, and may include both urine and blood tests. Infectious tests panels are very commonly used when patients request testing for sexually transmitted infections.

How infections can be transmitted to a person

There are several basic ways that infectious diseases can be transmitted. These include:

  • Direct Contact – Person to person transmission occurs with many diseases, such as the direct transfer of viruses, germs or parasites from an infected individual to another person. This can happen when an infected person touches another person, coughs or sneezes near them, or handles an uninfected person's food or drink. Sexually transmitted diseases spread from one person to another via sexual contact. Diseases like hepatitis B or HIV, can be spread by direct contact with an infected person's blood or bodily fluids, which can occur during sex, while treating injuries, or by sharing needles during drug use. Being bitten or scratched by an infected animal or insect can also be the source of transmission of many infections, including Lyme disease, malaria and toxoplasmosis. Some infectious diseases can also be passed to unborn babies by an infected mother.
  • Indirect contact – People can also become infected by contact with things that are contaminated by a disease-causing pathogen. For example, your hands can be contaminated with viruses by touching a door handle, table top or faucet handle that has been used by a person who has a cold or flu. You can pick up the parasite that causes Toxoplasmosis by cleaning a cat's litter box. Hepatitis A has been spread to customers by infected food service workers. Care givers can be infected as they handle infected bedding, clothing or other personal items.

What are some diseases that are highly contagious?

Highly contagious diseases are those that are very easy to catch when exposed to an infected individual, their environment or their personal belongings. Among the most common illnesses that are easily transmitted from person to person are:

  • The common cold – Easily transmitted via direct or indirect contact.
  • Influenza (the flu) – Easily transmitted via direct or indirect contact.
  • Tuberculosis – The bacteria that causes Tuberculosis is released into the air by infected people to be inhaled by others.
  • Herpes – A kiss can transmit oral herpes, while genital herpes is spread by sexual or skin contact.
  • Chlamydia – Easily spread by sexual contact.
  • Gonorrhea– Easily spread by sexual contact.
  • Impetigo – Spread by contact with open sores, or infected towels, bedding or other items.
  • Measles – Easily transmitted via direct or indirect contact.
  • MRSA – Spread by direct contact with an infected person or contact with infected clothes, towels, bedding or bandages.
  • Chickenpox – Spreads via direct or indirect contact.

Are all diseases infectious?

Infectious diseases are caused by organisms that invade the body. While they are a very common type of disease, they are not the only type. Many diseases develop without any type of infection or pathogen present. For instance, osteoarthritis is a disease caused by wear and tear on the joints, and osteoporosis is caused by factors that include aging, low intake of bone-healthy nutrients, hormonal imbalances and insufficient exercise. Autoimmune diseases are caused by the body's own immune system attacking its cells, organs and tissues, and cardiovascular diseases are often related to genetics and lifestyle factors.

Featured Tests And Packages

Featured Tests and Packages
Chlamydia, Gonorrhea & Trichomoniasis

Detects chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas in a urine sample.

Hepatitis A Infection and Immunity Package

Detects total hepatitis A antibodies and hepatitis A IgM antibodies to screen for hepatitis A infection or confirm immunity.

Hepatitis B Infection and Immunity Package

Detects antigens and antibodies to hepatitis B to screen for hepatitis B infection or confirm immunity.

Lab Tests (A-Z)

Lab Tests (A-Z)
Acute Hepatitis Package

Detects antigens and antibodies for hepatitis to screen for infection with the hepatitis A, B, or C virus. AVAILABLE AT LABCORP ONLY.

Chicken Pox & Shingles

Measures level of antibodies to determine if a person is immune to the virus that causes shingles


Detects chlamydia in a urine sample

Chlamydia & Gonorrhea

This urine test for the bacteria that causes chlamydia & gonorrhea detects infection within 1 to 5 days of exposure.

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea & Trichomoniasis 

Detects chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas in a urine sample.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Quantitative, Urine, PCR

This test may be used to quantitatively detect CMV DNA in urine specimens.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) Antibodies, IgG

This test may be used to determine if an individual has had recent or past exposure to the virus.

Cytomegalovirus Antibodies, IgM (CMV)

This test may be used to determine if an individual has had a recent exposure to the virus

Early HIV Detection (HIV-1), Qualitative, RNA

The (HIV-1), Qualitative, RNA tests for the HIV virus in the blood as soon as 28 days from exposure.

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV-VCA) Antibodies, IgG

This test is used to measure the IgG antibodies to aid in the detection of a current or recent infection.

Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV,VCA) Antibodies, IgM

This test is used to measure the IgM antibodies to aid in the detection of an active infection.


Detects gonorrhea in a urine sample

Hepatitis A Antibody, IgM

This test measures the level of Hepatitis IgM antibodies in the blood.

Hepatitis B Core Antibodies, Total

Core antibodies are the first antibodies produced by the body in response to infection with hepatitis B. A positive core antibody result could indicate either previous or ongoing infection.1

Hepatitis B Infection and Immunity Package

Detects antigens and antibodies to hepatitis B to screen for hepatitis B infection or confirm immunity.

Hepatitis B Surface Antigen

Detects antigens to hepatitis B to screen for active infection.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV), Quantitative Real-time PCR

This test is used to measure the viral load, number of international units per mL of blood, in known HCV positive individuals.

Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) Infection

Measures the level of hepatitis C antibodies to screen for infection with hepatitis C virus.

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Types 1 & 2

Detects antibodies the body produces in response to herpes.

Herpes Simplex Virus 1&2, DNA PCR

Detects the presence of HSV DNA and determines which type of herpes is present in positive samples.


Detects antibodies and antigens created by your immune system to help diagnose HIV.

Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV) 1,2

This test is used to detect the presence of antibodies developed by the body in response to the infection of HTLV (Human T-Cell Lymphotropic Virus).

Lyme Disease, PCR

This test may be used to detect the presence of Borrelia Burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, in a blood sample after 2-3 weeks from exposure. This is a quantitative PCR test that will provide a numerical result.

Malaria and Other Parasites

Detects the presence of Plasmodium species to help diagnose malaria and other parasitic infections


Detects antibodies to Epstein-Barr, the virus that causes mononucleosis


Detects antibodies that the body develops in response to the infection that causes syphilis.


Detects antibodies to Toxoplasma gondii


Trichomonas vaginalis is a parasite that causes infection and can be spread in several ways, including sex, which causes trichomoniasis.

Tuberculosis (QuantiFERON®-TB Gold Plus)

Detects latent and active infection with tuberculosis

West Nile Virus

This blood test may be used to detect and measure IgM and IgG antibodies to the West Nile Virus.