I know I’m guilty of sometimes using the terms infectious, communicable and contagious without thought to accuracy. So, I decided to verify my understanding of these terms by checking in with an expert, especially as they pertain to the skin I touch when providing bodywork.
I consulted with Annie Morien, PhD, dermatology PA, researcher, educator, massage therapist and recipient of the AMTA 2015 Jerome Perlinski Teacher of the Year award.
In Dr. Annie’s very informative book (that’s how her students address her), Infectious and Communicable Skin Diseases – A Pocket Guide for Massage Therapists, she defines the differences this way:
“Infectious Disease. A pathogen (bacteria, virus, fungus) produces an infection on or within a susceptible host by overtaking immune defenses, overgrowth, etc. Although all infectious diseases are capable of causing infection, not all are communicable. Example: cellulitis”
My additional examples: skin boils; infected wounds; candida rashes
“Communicable Disease. A pathogen is transmitted from a source to a susceptible host through direct or indirect contact with the source, resulting in infection. Example: impetigo.”
My additional examples: athlete’s foot; toe and finger fungus; plantar warts; MRSA
“Contagious Disease is a subset of communicable diseases, in that the disease spreads quickly and easily from a source to susceptible host by direct or indirect contact. Example: measles.
My added example: conjunctivitis
Dr. Annie went on to state, “I find that making the distinction between the terms helps put ‘diseases’ on a continuum of ‘least likely to be transmitted’ to ‘most likely to be transmitted.’ I believe this helps massage therapists and reflexologists distinguish how much risk they have when encountering a client with certain diseases.”
I’m glad I decided to purchase this little gem of a book. I’ve learned a lot from its clearly written content and sharp photos. I wish I had had this book years ago, instead of having to research everything that came my way. It’s ending up being a great resource for me as someone who touches human bodies pretty well everyday and instructs others on the safety factors and skills needed to do that in a professional environment.
If you want to know more, check out Dr. Annie’s website.