What Is the Difference between Communicable and Non-Communicable Disease?

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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 14 July 2019
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Communicable disease refers to diseases that can pass from one person to another. Non-communicable diseases occur in one person and cannot be passed on to another person. Communicable diseases are also known as infectious diseases, and non-communicable diseases are referred to as chronic. Communicable and non-communicable disease usually require different treatments.

The separation of illness into communicable and non-communicable disease is useful for developing prevention and control strategies. The distinction does not mean that one group is intrinsically more dangerous than the other, although the World Heath Organization (WHO) estimates that 60 percent of deaths worldwide are caused by non-communicable diseases. Communicable diseases are more prevalent in underdeveloped countries than developed countries.

According to the WHO, there are four types of non-communicable diseases. These are cardiovascular disease, cancers, non-infectious diseases of the respiratory system, and diabetes. The major causes of these diseases are lifestyle related. Lack of exercise, smoking, unhealthy diet, and abuse of alcohol are all important causes.

One important difference between communicable and non-communicable disease is that non-communicable diseases tend to be chronic, which means they last a long time and progress slowly. Communicable diseases are more likely to be acute, which means the disease develops quickly. Both types of disease may require medication, but non-communicable diseases may be better treated with lifestyle changes.


Communicable diseases are caused by infectious organisms, like bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Viruses and parasites can also be spread from person to person or from animal to person. A communicable disease can spread directly from person to person, such as in the case of a cold or flu virus.

It can also spread indirectly from a person to another person. Malaria is an example of an indirect transmission. To illustrate, an infected mosquito feeds and subsequently infects one person. Then, another mosquito can feed from that person, picking up the parasite and infecting the next person it feeds from.

Each region of the world has its own particular communicable disease profile as infectious organisms may require certain environmental conditions to thrive. For example, malaria is common in Sub-Saharan Africa, tuberculosis is a problem in Asia, and the hepatitis C virus affects millions of Americans. Some infectious diseases, such as polio, are preventable by mass vaccination.

The line between communicable and non-communicable disease is sometimes blurred. Certain chronic diseases are actually caused by an infectious organism when previously they were thought to be unrelated to infection. Cervical cancer is one such case; it is caused by the human papilloma virus. Also, Epstein-Barr virus can cause various types of lymphoma cancers. Research is ongoing into other chronic diseases to see if they are caused by communicable diseases.


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Post 5

Communicable diseases transmit from one person to the other, but non-communicable do not.

The main cause of communicable diseases is germ or parasite, whereas the cause of a non-communicable disease is our unhealthy lifestyle.

The communicable diseases are transmitted through physical contact, like insect bites, air, water, etc. but non-communicable diseases are not transmitted except through heredity.

The communicable diseases are acute and have quick recovery but the non-communicable diseases are chronic and have no or longer recovery.

Diarrhea, dysentry, cholera, gonorrhoea, etc. are communicable diseases where cancer, diabetes, malnutrition, anemia, etc. are non-communicable diseases.

Post 4

@MrsPramm - I honestly don't blame them. I don't think we should overreact to disease to the point where we treat each other badly, but in a disease outbreak the people who are willing to wear a mask on the bus are probably going to survive.

Post 3

@umbra21 - To me, the worst thing is when people aren't sure where a disease comes from and they panic and become destructive. There have been examples of this all throughout history, but we even do it in modern times. Look at all the panic when AIDS was first discovered. I remember that there were lots of stories about children who got the disease through a blood transfusion and were ostracized by their whole neighborhood because people thought you could get it from toilet seats and door handles.

We had another panic like that even more recently with swine flu and some of the stories about the lengths people were going to make sure they didn't get it were ridiculous. I still see people sometimes wearing face masks on the bus.

Post 2

I always find it interesting when they discover that a disease they previously thought was caused by one thing is actually caused by something completely different.

Another example is ulcers, which were once thought to be caused by stress and are now known to usually be caused by a particular bacteria. I'm not sure if the bacteria can be passed from person to person though.

Leprosy is another big one. They used to have all kinds of explanations about where it comes from, but in fact it's caused by bacteria as well and is one of the worst communicable and chronic diseases, although it doesn't spread all that easily.

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