An infectious disease is a clinically evident illness resulting from the presence of pathogenic microbial agents, including pathogenic viruses, pathogenic bacteria, fungi, protozoa, multicellular parasites, and aberrant proteins known as prions. These pathogens are able to cause disease in animals and/or plants. Infectious pathologies are also called communicable diseases or transmissible diseases due to their potential of transmission from one person or species to another by a replicating agent (as opposed to a toxin).
Transmission of an infectious disease may occur through one or more of diverse pathways including physical contact with infected individuals. These infecting agents may also be transmitted through liquids, food, body fluids, contaminated objects, airborne inhalation, or through vector-borne spread. Transmissible diseases which occur through contact with an ill person or their secretions, or objects touched by them, are especially infective, and are sometimes referred to as contagious diseases. Infectious (communicable) diseases which usually require a more specialized route of infection, such as vector transmission, blood or needle transmission, or sexual transmission, are usually not regarded as contagious, and thus not are not as amenable to medical quarantine of victims.
The term infectivity describes the ability of an organism to enter, survive and multiply in the host, while the infectiousness of a disease indicates the comparative ease with which the disease is transmitted to other hosts. An infection however, is not synonymous with an infectious disease, as an infection may not cause important clinical symptoms or impair host function.