Definition of contagious
- contagious diseases
- contagious people
- a contagious ward
- contagious enthusiasm
- contagious laughter
It's a highly contagious virus.
I have a cold and I'm still contagious.
I'm sick, but the doctor says I'm not contagious.
These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'contagious.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.
Essentially, infectious diseases and contagious diseases are caused by disease-producing agents such as bacteria and viruses, but they differ in that contagious diseases can be spread to other people by direct or indirect contact.
Anything contagious, such as the flu, is always automatically infectious: if you can catch it from someone, it's being passed to you via an infectious agent, which is the thing that gets you sick—usually a virus or a bacteria.
The reverse, however, isn't true. Just because something is infectious does not mean it's contagious. Food poisoning, for example, is infectious but not contagious: food can be contaminated with a bacteria (an infectious agent) that makes you sick, but you can't give your food poisoning to someone else by shaking their hand or even giving them a kiss.
Both contagious and infectious are also used figuratively, often in much happier contexts: laughter can be contagious; someone's enthusiasm can be infectious. While both words are used figuratively of both pleasant and unpleasant things, contagious is more often chosen for the unpleasant, as when it's grumpiness or fear that seems to be spreading.
: able to be passed from one person or animal to another by touching
: having a sickness that can be passed to someone else by touching
: capable of being easily spread to others : causing other people to feel or act a similar way
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