Communicable & Noncommunicable Diseases: Definition & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Risk Factors for Contracting Communicable Diseases

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:00 What Are Diseases?
  • 1:20 What Are Communicable…
  • 2:30 What Are…
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Angela Hartsock

Angela has taught college Microbiology and has a doctoral degree in Microbiology.

Expert Contributor
Amanda Robb

Amanda holds a Masters in Science from Tufts Medical School in Cellular and Molecular Physiology. She has taught high school Biology and Physics for 8 years.

A disease is a condition in the body that disrupts normal functions. Why are some diseases contagious while others aren't? This lesson discusses the difference between communicable and noncommunicable diseases.

What Are Diseases?

Let's say you're sitting at a gate in a major American airport, waiting to board a flight. At a neighboring gate, a flight arrives and several people exit the plane wearing surgical masks. You assume that you should probably avoid these people. They must have some illness and are trying not spread it to a planeload of people. Then, your plane starts loading. You strike up a conversation with someone who's describing their difficulty getting through security with insulin and syringes. They're diabetic, yet not wearing a surgical mask. You aren't worried about catching diabetes, but why? Diabetes is a life-threatening disease after all. To answer this question, we need to examine the main difference between common illnesses.

A disease is any abnormal condition that causes a disruption in the functions of a body tissue, organ, or entire organism. Diseases are recognized by a specific set of symptoms. Think about the diseases you know: a cold, the flu, measles, cancer, stroke, or diabetes, just to name a few. These diseases all disrupt the body in very characteristic ways. Now think about what causes these conditions: viruses, bacteria, fungi, smoking, genetic defects, etc. There are countless diseases, each with its own unique and characteristic cause. But why can you 'catch' some diseases but not others? This is due to the two different types of disease: communicable and noncommunicable.

What Are Communicable Diseases?

Communicable diseases are spread from person to person or from animal to person. The spread or transfer can happen through the air, through contact with contaminated surfaces, or through direct contact with blood, feces, or other bodily fluids. A cold is an example of a communicable disease (a cold is the general term given to a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract).

This is probably why those airline passengers mentioned at the start of this lesson were wearing masks. Viruses in the respiratory passageways can easily be coughed or even just breathed out. So, if the inconsiderate cold-carrier sitting next to you on the plane coughs, viruses are spewed into your vicinity. You breathe, and suddenly those viruses have found a new respiratory tract to call home (yours!). That cold has now been passed from one infected person to another uninfected person, spreading the communicable disease.

You can probably identify other communicable diseases. If a disease is caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, or protozoa it's likely, although not always, communicable. Rabies, HIV, malaria, influenza, and athlete's foot are just a few examples of communicable diseases you may be familiar with.

What Are Noncommunicable Diseases?

What about other things like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes? You can't 'catch' these, right? These are examples of noncommunicable diseases, which are medical conditions that are not infectious and cannot be passed from one person or animal to another. Your fellow passenger with diabetes was either born with it or developed it later in life. Either way, you cannot 'catch' diabetes.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Everyday Diseases

In this activity, students will be identifying common diseases they may come in contact with, describing the symptoms and identifying the disease as communicable or non-communicable. You can encourage students to brainstorm diseases they may have had or have seen a friend or family member go through. They can also use the internet to find information on common symptoms and the cause of the disease. For example, many students are familiar with the flu and strep throat as examples of communicable diseases, and diabetes or heart disease as noncommunicable diseases.


Now that you know about the difference between communicable and noncommunicable diseases, it's time to put your knowledge to the test. In this activity, you will be brainstorming ten diseases that you have encountered in your everyday life, either through experiencing the disease yourself or observing a friend or family member going through it. For each disease, you'll list the symptoms, the cause and then identify the disease as communicable or noncommunicable. If you're not sure about some of the information for a disease, you can use a credible source from the internet such as Mayo Clinic or WebMD. After completing the project, answer the reflection questions.

DiseaseSymptomsCauseCommunicable or Noncommunicable


  1. Which diseases were more common in your life, communicable or noncommunicable? Why do you think you observed that pattern?
  2. Were there any common symptoms among communicable diseases? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think it is important to identify diseases as communicable or noncommunicable?

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account