Noninfectious diseases can't be passed from one person to another. Instead, these types of diseases are caused by factors such as the environment, genetics and lifestyle. The term comes from a distinction health experts like to make between infectious diseases -- which are caused by organisms and can be passed from one person to another (also known as contagious) -- and those that can't. Examples of these infectious diseases are colds, flu, herpes, measles and even AIDS, which is caused by infection with HIV. Many infectious diseases are bigger problems in underdeveloped countries, where there is less control of sanitation, fewer vaccinations and other problems that contribute to higher levels of infectious diseases [source: EHNRI].
Noninfectious diseases are not caused by specific organisms and are studied and cared for more in developed countries, where many infectious diseases are under control. Examples of inherited noninfectious conditions include cystic fibrosis and Down syndrome, and examples of conditions caused by environmental or lifestyle factors include heart disease and skin cancer. We can't change our genetic codes, but there are plenty of ways to prevent other noninfectious diseases. For example, cutting down on exposure to cigarette smoke and the sun's rays will prevent certain types of cancer.
In fact, most chronic noninfectious diseases can be prevented. The chronic noninfectious diseases that cause the most deaths in the United States -- heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer -- are largely preventable [source: Minnesota Department of Health]. For example, some cancers have genetic risks, but people at high risk for cancers can have screening examinations to catch them early or sometimes can take other steps to prevent the cancers. Heart disease, stroke and diabetes are mostly linked to lifestyle choices, even when family history puts a person at higher risk for the diseases.
Overall, people in the United States are contributing to higher rates of noninfectious diseases by taking advantage of technology and social environments that encourage sedentary lifestyles and faster and cheaper, but less healthy, meals. People also are living longer, but can choose to live more healthily by adopting regular exercise routines and healthy eating habits.
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