Infections are caused by infectious agents including viruses, viroids, prions, bacteria, nematodes such as parasitic roundworms and pinworms, arthropods such as ticks, mites, fleas, and lice, fungi such as ringworm, and other macroparasites such as tapeworms and other helminths.
Specific medications used to treat infections include antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, antiprotozoals, and antihelminthics. Infectious diseases resulted in 9.2 million deaths in 2013 (about 17% of all deaths). The branch of medicine that focuses on infections is referred to as infectious disease.
Symptomatic infections are apparent and clinical, whereas an infection that is active but does not produce noticeable symptoms may be called inapparent, silent, subclinical, or occult. An infection that is inactive or dormant is called a latent infection. An example of a latent bacterial infection is latent tuberculosis. Some viral infections can also be latent, examples of latent viral infections are any of those from the Herpesviridae family.
The word infection can denote any presence of a particular pathogen at all (no matter how little) but also is often used in a sense implying a clinically apparent infection (in other words, a case of infectious disease). This fact occasionally creates some ambiguity or prompts some usage discussion. To get around the usage annoyance, it is common for health professionals to speak of colonization (rather than infection) when they mean that some of the pathogens are present but that no clinically apparent infection (no disease) is present.
A short-term infection is an acute infection. A long-term infection is a chronic infection. Infections can be further classified by causative agent (bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic), and by the presence or absence of systemic symptoms (sepsis).
Among the many varieties of microorganisms, relatively few cause disease in otherwise healthy individuals. Infectious disease results from the interplay between those few pathogens and the defenses of the hosts they infect. The appearance and severity of disease resulting from any pathogen, depends upon the ability of that pathogen to damage the host as well as the ability of the host to resist the pathogen. However a host's immune system can also cause damage to the host itself in an attempt to control the infection. Clinicians therefore classify infectious microorganisms or microbes according to the status of host defenses - either as primary pathogens or as opportunistic pathogens: