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Reservoirs Of Infection

Discover the hidden reservoirs of infection lurking in unexpected places and how to protect yourself.

Reservoirs of Infection: A USMLE Guide


In the field of medicine, understanding the concept of reservoirs of infection is crucial for diagnosing and managing various diseases. Reservoirs refer to the sites where infectious agents, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites, can persist and maintain their ability to infect individuals. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of reservoirs of infection, including their types and significance for medical professionals preparing for the USMLE exams.

Types of Reservoirs

Human Reservoirs

Human reservoirs are individuals who harbor and spread infectious agents, either symptomatic or asymptomatic, without succumbing to the disease themselves. These individuals can act as sources of infection for other susceptible individuals. Examples include carriers of infectious diseases like Hepatitis B, Typhoid fever, and Tuberculosis.

Animal Reservoirs

Animal reservoirs refer to animals that carry and transmit infectious agents to humans. Certain diseases, known as zoonoses, can be transmitted directly or indirectly from animals to humans. Examples include Lyme disease transmitted by ticks, Rabies transmitted by infected animals, and Avian Influenza transmitted by birds.

Environmental Reservoirs

Environmental reservoirs are non-living reservoirs where infectious agents can persist and remain viable. These reservoirs can include soil, water, and various surfaces. For example, Legionella bacteria can survive in water systems, leading to outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease. Similarly, Clostridium tetani, the causative agent of tetanus, can persist in soil.

Significance for Disease Transmission

Understanding reservoirs of infection is essential for preventing and controlling the spread of diseases. By identifying the reservoir, healthcare providers can implement appropriate measures to interrupt the transmission cycle. Key considerations include:

Identification and Isolation

Identifying individuals or animals serving as reservoirs allows for appropriate isolation measures to be implemented. This helps prevent further transmission of the infectious agent to susceptible individuals. For example, isolating patients with active Tuberculosis prevents the spread of the disease.

Vector Control

For diseases transmitted by vectors, such as mosquitoes or ticks, targeting the vector population is crucial. By controlling the vector population, healthcare professionals can reduce the risk of disease transmission. For instance, controlling mosquito breeding sites helps prevent the spread of diseases like Malaria and Dengue fever.

Sanitation and Hygiene Practices

Environmental reservoirs can be managed through proper sanitation and hygiene practices. Regular cleaning of water systems, proper waste disposal, and maintaining cleanliness in healthcare settings significantly reduce the risk of infection transmission.


Reservoirs of infection play a vital role in the transmission of various diseases. Understanding the types of reservoirs and their significance allows healthcare professionals to implement appropriate measures for prevention, control, and management. By incorporating this knowledge into their medical practice, physicians can effectively limit the spread of infectious diseases and improve public health.

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