Contagious or Infectious? They’re Not the Same!


When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, is the virus contagious or infectious? People use the two words interchangeably…but that’s not right.

Would you be more accurate to call the novel coronavirus contagious or infectious? Or both?

I keep hearing various political leaders refer to our present situation as “unprecedented times.” Part of these times includes nearly everyone pretending to be a social media doctor.

That means a lot of incorrect or incomplete information keeps surfacing. And after all these years of social media, too many still believe everything they read.

Let’s consider the medical terms contagious and infectious. They’re not the same thing and the difference between them remains important.


A recent Forbes article carries this headline: “The COVID-19 Coronavirus Disease May Be Twice As Contagious As We Thought.”

Isn’t that delightful news?

But we do know, at least, that COVID-19 is contagious. A contagious illness spreads by contact. The contact may be person-to-person, animal-to-person, or contaminated surface to person. We call illnesses like COVID-19, the common cold and the flu contagious because someone who has one of them can easily pass it to someone else if proper precautions aren’t taken.

Scientists say someone who has the novel coronavirus can pass it to someone else even if the first person doesn’t show any symptoms.

That’s why they keep urging everyone to wash their hands often.


An infectious disease spreads through an infectious agent. It doesn’t require contact from another person who is infected. But you can catch the infectious disease if you are infected with these same bacteria or virus another patient has.

Examples of infectious diseases include SARS, influenza, tuberculosis and hepatitis.

Contagious or infectious?

Any illness that’s contagious is automatically infectious. But an illness that’s infectious is not automatically contagious.

A good example is Lyme Disease. Most cases of Lyme Disease come from a tick bite. But if you have it, you can’t spread it someone else by contact. The other person would have to be infected by the actual Borrelia bacterium, which causes the condition. So Lyme Disease is infectious but not contagious.

COVID-19 is both contagious and infectious. It’s contagious because it can be spread from person to person or from contaminated surfaces. It’s infectious because the agent, a virus, can cause the illness.

Please remember to maintain social distancing and wash your hands frequently. I hope you don’t end up getting this horrible illness!

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.