What Is Infectious Disease and Why Should Latinos Care?

The term “infectious disease” covers a wide range of harmful illnesses.

The flu, chickenpox, and COVID-19 are some infectious diseases caused by germs or viruses that sicken people and can spread to others.

Latinos face a heavier burden than their peers for several infectious diseases, from HIV/AIDS to coronavirus to tuberculosis.

Fortunately, we can each do our part to prevent infectious disease — including learning more about them.

“Anyone can get an infectious disease,” experts at the Cleveland Clinic write. “People with a compromised immune system (an immune system that doesn’t work at full strength) have greater risk for certain types of infections.

“Infectious diseases are extremely common worldwide. Some infectious diseases strike more often than others.”

What is Infectious Disease?

The kinds of organisms that can transmit infectious disease are everywhere.

In fact, there are several ways one can face exposure, including direct contact (person to person, animal to person) and indirect contact (insect bites, food contamination).

When it comes to what specifically can infect people, the Mayo Clinic states that infectious diseases can be caused by:

  • Bacteria. These one-cell organisms are responsible for illnesses such as strep throat, urinary tract infections and tuberculosis.
  • Viruses. Even smaller than bacteria, viruses cause a multitude of diseases ranging from the common cold to AIDS.
  • Fungi. Many skin diseases, such as ringworm and athlete’s foot, are caused by fungi. Other types of fungi can infect your lungs or nervous system. Latinos Care Infectious Disease
  • Parasites. Malaria is caused by a tiny parasite that is transmitted by a mosquito bite. Other parasites may be transmitted to humans from animal feces.

“Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms — such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Many organisms live in and on our bodies. They’re normally harmless or even helpful. But under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease.”

These organisms can cause diseases with harmful symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea, fatigue, and muscle aches.

“Signs and symptoms vary depending on the organism causing the infection, but often include fever and fatigue,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Mild infections may respond to rest and home remedies, while some life-threatening infections may need hospitalization.”

What Are the Main Types of Infectious Disease?

There are 22 main kinds of infectious disease, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases:

  • Chickenpox
  • Coronaviruses
  • Diphtheria
  • Ebola
  • Flu
  • Hepatitis
  • Hib
  • HPV
  • Measles
  • Meningococcal
  • Mumps
  • Norovirus
  • Pneumococcal
  • Polio
  • RSV
  • Rotavirus
  • Rubella
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus
  • Whooping Cough
  • Zika

When it comes to new cases of infectious disease, as well as the harsh effects it can create in a community, Latinos face higher rates of infection and severe disease.

How Does Infectious Disease Impact Latinos?

Latinos are a rising population, now comprising 18.5% of the U.S. population.

Latinos are facing significant cases of infectious disease, according to CDC data. In many cases, they fare worse than their peers.

Flu (or chickenpox): Latinos had the third highest flu-related hospitalization rate (45 per 100,000), compared to whites who had a  flu-related hospitalization rate of 38 per 100,000.

HIV: In 2018, Latinos accounted for 27% of the 37,968 new diagnoses in the United States and dependent areas.

HPV: Latinas are 40% more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 20% more likely to die from cervical cancer, compared to their white peers, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health stateshispanic kid child girl cough sick no health insurance

Tuberculosis: TB disease was reported in 2,617 Latinos in the United States, accounting for 29% of all people reported with TB disease nationally. The rate of TB disease in Latinos was over eight times higher than the rate of TB disease in whites.

Chlamydia: In 2018, the rate of reported chlamydia cases among Hispanics was 392.6 cases per 100,000 population, which was 1.9 times the rate among Whites.

Congenital Syphilis: From 2014 to 2018, the rate of reported congenital syphilis increased 263.4% among Latinos.

Moreover, the COVID-19—an infectious disease—continues to wreak havoc on Latinos.

Latinos currently comprise 26.6% of COVID-19 cases in the United States, second only to Whites (51.8%), according to CDC data on health equity and cases on Oct. 12, 2021.

17.7% of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are among Latinos, according to a new CDC data web page, “Health Disparities: Race and Hispanic Origin.” That page was updated Oct. 13, 2021.

However, the Latino COVID-19 death rate became a more out-sized 34.1% when CDC used weighted population distributions. This is higher than the 26.7% mark from data at the end of May 2020.

“The weighted population distributions ensure that the population estimates and percentages of COVID-19 deaths represent comparable geographic areas,” CDC wrote. “[This provides] information about whether certain racial and ethnic subgroups are experiencing a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 mortality.”

What Can You Do to Prevent Infectious Diseases?

The Mayo Clinic offers sage advice that people can take to prevent infection, which are:

  • Wash your hands. This is especially important before and after preparing food, before eating, and after using the toilet. And try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands, as that’s a common way germs enter the body.
  • Get vaccinated. Vaccination can drastically reduce your chances of contracting many diseases. Make sure to keep up to date on your recommended vaccinations, as well as your children’s.
  • Stay home when ill. Don’t go to work if you are vomiting, have diarrhea or have a fever. Don’t send your child to school if he or she has these signs, either.
  • Prepare food safely. Keep counters and other kitchen surfaces clean when preparing meals. Cook foods to the proper temperature, using a food thermometer to check for doneness. For ground meats, that means at least 160 F (71 C); for poultry, 165 F (74 C); and for most other meats, at least 145 F (63 C).
  • Practice safe sex. Always use condoms if you or your partner has a history of sexually transmitted infections or high-risk behavior.
  • Don’t share personal items. Use your own toothbrush, comb and razor. Avoid sharing drinking glasses or dining utensils.
  • Travel wisely. If you’re traveling out of the country, talk to your doctor about any special vaccinations — such as yellow fever, cholera, hepatitis A or B, or typhoid fever — you may need.

The CDC also has infection control guidelines for healthcare providers, including flu prevention in health settings, preventing healthcare-associated infections, long-term care facilities, and respiratory infections.

Project Firstline is an initiative between the CDC and diverse healthcare and public health partners.

It aims to provide infection control training (engagement tools, mentorship, partner engagement, etc.) for millions of frontline U.S. healthcare workers as well as members of the public health workforce.

Project Firstline reaches healthcare workers in a variety of healthcare settings, including:

  • hospitals,
  • outpatient clinics,
  • dialysis centers, and
  • nursing homes

“Project Firstline’s innovative content is designed so that—regardless of a healthcare worker’s previous training or educational background— they can understand and confidently apply the infection control principles and protocols necessary to protect themselves, their facility, their family, and their community from infectious disease threats, such as COVID-19,” the CDC states.

What Can You Do to Prevent COVID-19 Infection?

Structural and social determinants of health, with roots of racism and discrimination, indeed contributed to excess deaths among people of color, according to another report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NPR, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

This report found that:

  • 38% of households across the U.S. have not been adequately protected from financial problem despite historic government assistance.
  • 48% of households with children report they do not have any savings to fall back on, including 73% of Black households with children, 68% of Latino households with children.
  • 50% of households without health insurance report serious problems affording medical care vs. 13% with insurance.
  • 27% of renters nationally reported serious problems paying their rent.

This illustrates why Latinos are suffering during the pandemic.

Latinos are highly exposed to the virus as essential workers.

COVID-19-associated hospitalizations are also higher among Latinos.

Texas has a similar disparity. Latinos make up 39.7% of the state’s population. Latinos represent 37% of COVID-19 confirmed cases and 44.1% of COVID-19 confirmed deaths, according to state data as of Oct. 13, 2021.

“This is robbing the Hispanic community of a generation of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters,” Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor College of Medicine told TPR.

Disparities are happening in vaccine uptake, too. 4 Compelling Communication Strategies to Build COVID-19 Vaccine Confidence

Also, this population suffers from inequities in incomehealth care accessaccess to food, and more. Poverty rates also play a large role, as do fears of impact on daily life.

Latino undocumented immigrants often don’t benefit from unemployment aid or stimulus checks, either.

Find COVID-19 vaccine locations near you in English or Spanish!

One available resource is the Vaccine Equity Toolkit released by Kaiser Permanente. The toolkit offers resources for state and local governments as well as health care organizations to ensure everyone has equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine.

We can also help by sharing accurate information on how to protect one another from COVID-19.

To help move Latinos from vaccine hesitancy to vaccine confidence, Salud America! is uplifting the stories of real Latinos who overcame misinformation, got the vaccine, reconnected with family, and are helping end the pandemic.

Share these “change of heart” heroes in English or Spanish!

  • Rosa Herrera read on Facebook that the vaccine would inject her with a microchip. She learned that was a myth. See exactly what changed her heart and pushed her to get the vaccine! (en español)
  • Jesus Larralde was nervous about the vaccine’s possible side effects. His wife got the vaccine and was fine. See exactly what changed his heart and pushed him to get the vaccine! (en español)
  • Helen Cordova thought the vaccine was rushed. But she did her research and learned the vaccine’s safety, and volunteered to be the first person in California to get the vaccine! See exactly what changed her heart! (en español)

Find COVID-19 vaccine locations near you in English or Spanish!




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