Communicable Illnesses

A communicable illness is an illness caught from contact with germs or viruses, and can be spread from person to person. Some communicable illnesses, like Lyme disease, are spread through contact with certain animals. Many communicable illnesses can be spread through contact with infected surfaces (like doorknobs touched by a sick person), or through infected airborne fluids (like from a sneeze).

Some communicable illnesses, like gastroenteritis, can be caught from contaminated food or water, and then spread from person to person. Many communicable illnesses can be prevented by thorough and frequent hand-washing in hot water with soap. See guide to proper hand-washing below:

Common Cold

The common cold is a highly infectious respiratory illness that can be caused by many different viruses, and is spread through contact. The common cold is transmitted by direct contact with infected bodily fluids, most commonly through touching a surface contaminated with cold germs and then touching your own mouth, and by airborne drops of infected bodily fluids, as when someone sneezes into the air.

Symptoms include a runny nose, a sore throat, watery eyes, mild fever, headaches, sneezing and coughing. Since the common cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses it is the most common illness across the world, affecting adult Canadians an average of two to four times per year, and Canadian children up to eight times per year. With proper bed rest, the cold generally goes away within a week or two. If you develop complications, like lingering or worsening symptoms, go to the nearest MCI clinic right away.

Telehealth in Alberta

Health Link Alberta at 1.866.408.5465

If you wish to speak to a registered nurse or health care professional about a health concern, call Health Link Alberta toll-free at 1-866-408-5465. Health Link Alberta is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week telephone service for all Albertans with health questions and concerns.

There are also telehealth services available in Alberta that use videoconference technology to connect Albertans with the best possible health care, no matter where they live. Read more about Telehealth Alberta here, and videoconferencing initiatives here.


The flu (influenza) is a highly infectious respiratory illness that is spread through contact. Common symptoms include a fever of over 100 F (although it’s possible to have the flu without a fever) headaches, bodily aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue. The flu can spread very quickly among people, and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

If your symptoms persist beyond a week or if you develop complications like faintness, seizures, prolonged vomiting, dizziness, blue or purple discoloration of your lips or shortness of breath, please go to the nearest MCI clinic right away. Don’t delay: if left untreated, the flu can develop into bronchitis, a sinus infection, pneumonia or other serious conditions.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a very serious illness spread through infected blacklegged ticks. Blacklegged ticks are found in forests and tall grass, and range in size from a pinhead to a pea.

Depending on the severity of the infection and other factors, symptoms of Lyme disease differ from person to person. Lyme disease is therefore often misdiagnosed or ignored for a while. Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, sensations of tingling or numbness, spasms, rashes, irregular heartbeat, swollen lymph nodes, arthritis or aching in the joints and dizziness or ‘brain fog’ (a sense of confusion, sometimes affecting vision or balance).

If left untreated Lyme disease can last months or even years, sometimes developing into serious conditions like arthritis or paralysis. If you have been bitten by a blacklegged tick or notice any symptoms about a week after a tick bite, go to the nearest MCI clinic right away; if possible, save the tick in a sealable bag and bring it to the clinic. This will help your healthcare providers diagnose and treat you better.


Since the measles vaccine was introduced in the 1960s, there are only a few cases of the measles in developed countries every year. It is crucial that your child receive the measles vaccine.

If you or your child catches the measles, symptoms will occur in three stages. The first symptoms generally occur one to two weeks after infection, and include a fever, a runny nose, cough, and eye irritation. About two days after the initial symptoms, red blisters with bluish centres will appear inside the mouth. A rash often appears next, and can develop behind the ears, on the neck, across the face, and over the stomach, arms, and legs. During this phase, a high fever (up to 40 C) is common.

In most cases the measles go away on their own, but complications like pneumonia may develop. Go to the nearest MCI clinic if the measles have not gone away within a week, or if other symptoms, such as coughing up greenish mucus, develop.

Chicken Pox

Chicken pox is a very contagious, very common illness that temporarily causes a distinct rash and red blisters all over the body. Chicken pox is common in children and people who have never received the chicken pox vaccine. Chicken pox usually only happens once, but the virus can remain in the body and come back as a more serious condition called shingles.

After about two weeks of exposure to the virus, most people develop a fever, a decreased appetite, a headache, a cough, a sore throat, and small red blisters all over the body. Chicken pox blisters stay on the body for about ten days, and will go through a cycle of blistering, crusting over, and flaking away. It is important not to peel off or scratch the blisters, as this could leave permanent scarring. If you develop complications, like lingering or worsening symptoms, go to the nearest MCI clinic right away.


Gastroenteritis is an infection of the intestines, spread through contact with individuals with the virus, through oral contact with unwashed hands after using the bathroom, or through contaminated food or water.

Common symptoms include watery diarrhea and vomiting, along with stomach pain, bodily aches, chills, headaches, mild fever and nausea. It is important to consume fluids and watch for dryness of the mouth and faintness, as a common complication of gastroenteritis is dehydration.

There is no treatment for gastroenteritis, so prevention through vigilant hand-washing is key. Go to the nearest MCI clinic right away if you develop a high fever, cannot keep liquids down for 24 hours, see blood in your vomit or stool, or have been vomiting for more than two days.


Pinkeye is a very contagious infection of the conjunctiva, the clear lining between the eyelid and the surface of the eye, most commonly affecting children. When infected the conjunctiva turns red and swells, giving the eyes a pinkish appearance.

Pinkeye infections can arise from exposure to the sun, fumes or smoke, but are most commonly caused by viruses or bacteria. Symptoms of viral pinkeye include redness in the white of the eye, swelling of the eyelids, itching or burning feeling of the eyelids, swollen and tender areas in front of the ears, a lot of tearing, or clear or slightly thick, whitish fluids.

Symptoms of bacterial pinkeye are similar, but often include yellow or grayish discharge, and more leakage. To avoid viral or bacterial pinkeye it’s crucial to teach your children frequent and thorough hand-washing — especially before making food and after using the washroom. Viral pinkeye usually goes away by itself within a week, but complications may arise. Bacterial pinkeye requires antibiotics. If you notice any symptoms of pinkeye that last longer than a couple of days, go to the nearest MCI clinic right away.

Whooping Cough

Whooping cough is a very contagious respiratory illness that mostly commonly affects children under five years old. There are three stages of symptoms. The first stage involves symptoms similar to the common cold: fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, tearing, and a dry cough.

The second stage occurs about 10-15 days later and involves a ‘whooping’ cough, a series of violent coughs followed by a sharp inhale or ‘whooping’ noise. This cough is usually accompanied by excessive phlegm. The final stage involves a gradual decrease of symptoms, and can last anywhere for a couple of weeks to several months.

Consult your doctor for treatment if symptoms persist or you or your child develop complications. Parents of young children should be especially careful, as the potential for choking and the risk for complications is highest for infants under 1 year old.

Head Lice

Head lice are small insects that feed on tiny amounts of blood on the human scalp, and are most commonly known to infect children. Head lice do not spread disease or cause illness, but are very contagious, and their bites are very itchy.

Symptoms of head lice include itching and irritation of the scalp; parting the hair and examining the scalp usually reveals nits, or lice eggs. Head lice cannot jump from one person to another, but are spread through contact with towels, brushes, hats, helmets that have been used by a person infected with lice. If the infestation is acute you might spot some lice as well, which are tiny, grey-white, wingless insects. If you hear of a lice infestation at your child’s school or if your child develops symptoms of an infestation, it is advised that your child stays home from school until their school can confirm the infection is cleared and they are no longer at risk.