The Different Routes of Infectious Disease Transmission

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  • 0:07 Different Ways You Can…
  • 0:55 Horizontal and…
  • 2:06 Vectors, Vehicles, and Fomites
  • 3:51 Other Ways By Which…
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss the different ways you can get sick. We'll discuss how pathogenic microbes can be transmitted to you or someone else as we explore horizontal and vertical transmission as well as vectors, vehicles, and fomites.

The Different Ways You Can Get Sick

Air, water and food. A mother, insects or sex. All of these things are critical to the survival of our species. All of these things can also kill us. This lesson will explore some of the many ways by which you can get sick directly or indirectly and spread about something that is causing you to feel sick to others.

However, like the saying goes, one man's garbage is another man's treasure. The methods of disease transmission we'll cover may get you sick and may even kill you, but you have to realize that these same methods are super-critical to the survival of whatever organism it is that you are transmitting.

Horizontal and Vertical Disease Transmission

The two overarching ways by which an organism can spread is known as 'vertically' or 'horizontally.' Horizontal disease transmission implies that pathogens are spread to other members of the same or different species through non-hereditary means. For example, the pneumonic plague is spread horizontally when you sneeze and another person inhales the aerosolized bacteria particles expelled during the sneeze itself.

However, other pathogens or genetic conditions can be spread by way of vertical disease transmission, which means it is spread from parent to offspring genetically or by way of passing an infection from mother to child. This could happen when contaminated breast milk infects an infant or when a transplacental infection, as with HIV, occurs in the womb. That's why I said in the beginning of this lesson that your mother can, in a way, end up killing you inadvertently.

Vectors, Vehicles and Fomites

Further still, some other ways by which diseases can be transmitted are more indirect. For example, you could get sick due to a vector-borne disease. A vector is any organism that carries and transmits an infectious agent into another organism. A really famous example of a vector is a mosquito.

You can get all sorts of stuff from mosquitoes, from bumps and rashes to malaria and West Nile virus. Vectors aren't limited to mosquitoes, however, as ticks, flies and even people can technically be considered a vector of disease transmission. If it's alive and it transmits a disease to you, it's a vector.

However, if it's not alive and transmits a disease to you, it's known as a fomite. Again, a fomite is a non-living object that transmits disease-causing pathogens. A very well-known example of this is something like a sponge you use to wash your dishes with. It's a great place for pathogens to hide in and spread. Other examples include pencils, handkerchiefs and so on.

Finally, a very specific form of a fomite, known as a vehicle, exists as well. No, this isn't your car. A vehicle, in the context of this lesson, is a fomite such as food or water. When you eat a vehicle, such as a hamburger that is laced with stomach flu-inducing viruses, you'll know exactly what I mean when you can't get off of your throne.

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