Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the incubational and prodromal phases of infection. In the first, initial contact is made between the infectious agent and its host, without the manifestation of symptoms. In the second, early symptoms begin appearing, due to the infector’s multiplication within the body. Still, “infection proper” has yet to begin.
You’ll recall we likened the prodromal phase to that of invasion by a hostile army. Well, once invasion has occurred, occupation is an inevitability. This leads us to infection’s third, or acute, phase.
Understanding Our Terms
In illness, we commonly distinguish between acute and chronic situations. For instance, inflammation, as an acute phenomenon, is a perfectly natural – and desirable – response of the body to the presence of some aggravating agent. You burn your finger lighting a candle. In response, the affected area reddens and possibly blisters, signs of the body’s innate defense and repair mechanisms going to work.
…no infection happens in a vacuum. It occurs in a living, integrated human body. So, it also should be no surprise that those infected lungs would have repercussions on the rest of the body. And, if the infected body part happens to be a tooth, well . . . don’t even get me started!
Again, this is an example of an acute response, which, in the case of inflammation, is a good thing. In short, it means that “all systems are go.” Chronic inflammation is an entirely different thing. I’ll have occasion to talk about this kind of inflammation in later posts, as it poses a serious and widespread health concern.
For now, though, we’re looking at infections. In this case, “acute” and “chronic” don’t refer to benefit and harm. Rather, they concern duration. Simply, an acute infection is one which has a recognizable beginning and an equally recognizable end. A chronic one, meanwhile, though certainly having a beginning, is – by definition – endless.
For the purposes of this post, however, we’re looking at “acuteness” under an even narrower lens, within the confines of a given infection’s third phase. Let me explain.
Signs of Acute Infection
Regarding the acute phase of infection, we’d do well to return to the descriptions offered by Dr. Paridhi Anand, whom we cited in Blogpost 054.
In the case of the infection’s acute stage, Dr. Anand explains that it is “the phase of rapid multiplication of the pathogen, with exponential growth and peak in its population. Symptoms are very pronounced, both specific as to the organ affected as well as in general, due to the strong response of the immune system.”
So, in this case, “acute” properly refers to the full development of the infection itself, without regard to duration.
That having been clarified, let’s have a brief look at the elements of Dr. Anand’s description, one by one.
Remember our “occupation metaphor” from above? Well, this generally happens when an invading force swells its ranks. In the case of an infecting agent, this is done by multiplying (i.e., reproducing). This is pretty straightforward: one bug becomes two, two become four, four become eight, etc.
Pronounced Symptoms: Specific and General
Next, there are the symptoms of the acute phase. The most obvious are the specific ones. An acute infection of the lungs – such as bronchitis, for example – will manifest itself most dramatically in the lungs themselves. No big surprise there.
However, no infection happens in a vacuum. It occurs in a living, integrated human body. So, it also should be no surprise that those infected lungs would have repercussions on the rest of the body. And, if the infected body part happens to be a tooth, well . . . don’t even get me started!
That situation merits its own series of blogposts.
For now, though, we need to wrap up this discussion of the four stages of infection. So, stay tuned. And, insofar as you can manage it, stay well!
All the best,
Dr. Blanche Grube