Difference between "infected with" and "infected by"

12

2

I found both these two versions are being used

Infected with coronavirus

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Infected by coronavirus

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Cambridge Dictionary gives different definitions for them:

to pass a disease to a person, animal, or plant

for "infected with" and

If a place, wound, or substance is infected, it contains bacteria or other things that can cause disease

for "infected by".

However, I can't distinguish those two meanings. Could someone please give a hint?

WXJ96163

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 1

12(1) I was poisoned by the murderer. (2) I was poisoned with arsenic. – Jason Bassford – 2020-04-29T01:30:24.153

1or poisoned by the murderer – michael – 2020-04-29T01:32:41.053

1This is one of those things where the technically correct answer is largely irrelevant to how it is commonly used in everyday speech. They are essentially interchangeable phrases in the real world. – eps – 2020-04-29T20:07:30.620

'infected with' always refers to the disease. 'infected by' could mean by a person, a method (coughing, contaminated plastic), a cruise ship... – smci – 2020-04-30T01:53:54.953

Answers

14

We use "by" when we talk about the agent that infects us with the disease. We use "with" when we talk about what we are infected with (i.e., the disease). Jason's comment and Michael's answer explain this quite well.

However, there is a distinction between the names of the agent and the disease in regards to COVID-19.

According to Mayo Clinic: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)

In 2019, a new coronavirus was identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that originated in China.

The virus is now known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease it causes is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Also see CBC News: What we know (and don't know) about the coronavirus outbreak.

The virus that causes the illness is now known as SARS-CoV-2​​​​.

The initial symptoms of the illness, called COVID-19, are ...

So, it is SARS-CoV-2​​​​ that infects you with COVID-19.

I should probably point out that this distinction is not something that the average person really pays attention to (or may be even cares about?). As Kat says in comments, they may even use the terms interchangeably.

AIQ

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 8 399

2Technically correct (the best type of correct), but it's worth noting that the average person won't distinguish between these two and would use both "infected with" and "infected by" interchangeably with "COVID-19" or even "coronavirus". No one but a pedant would correct you on it. – Kat – 2020-04-29T16:59:20.550

@Kat Thanks! And noted. Added your comment to my answer. – AIQ – 2020-04-29T18:27:13.270

There’s also now “the Coronavirus” as a phrase, despite there being more than one. I suppose like “can you get the door” even when your house has many doors: in both situations it’s clear which is referred to. – Tim – 2020-04-29T22:52:17.257

1That latter one seems to much more common in American media than (say) Australian media. – Steve Bennett – 2020-04-30T01:50:58.350

@SteveBennett By the latter one you mean "SARS-CoV-2"? Perhaps because it is more difficult to use in speech than just COVID-19. What is more common in Australian media? – AIQ – 2020-04-30T02:00:14.910

1Sorry, should have been clear. I meant "the Coronavirus", specifically with the "the". Here it's either "Coronavirus" or "COVID-19". – Steve Bennett – 2020-04-30T04:53:57.877

I don't think this is correct. "Infected with" refers to an infection, not an arbitrary disease; you can't say "infected with cancer", even if the cancer in question is caused by a virus, but you can say "infected with a virus that causes cancer". – ruakh – 2020-04-30T06:20:44.863

6

With HIV / AIDS, HIV is the agent and AIDS is the disease(s), so you would say I was infected by HIV and infected with AIDS.

The difficulty (so far) is that coronavirus is both the agent and the disease. Perhaps there will be a separation later - maybe coronavirus for the agent / virus and COVID-19 for the disease?

Edit (in response to a comment from Jason Bassford):

Jason said the same thing as this at the same time in his comment.

michael

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 1 019

3Great example - HIV/AIDS! However, there is a distinction between the agent and the disease (in my answer). – AIQ – 2020-04-29T05:23:51.193

Thanks for the extra information about the distinction, AIQ. It isn't widely used (at least among the general population yet) though. – michael – 2020-04-29T10:46:51.633

1I don't think that HIV/AIDS is quite a correct analogy for coronavirus/COVID-19. COVID-19 is just one example of a family of many coronaviruses, rather than a condition brought on by it. A better analog might be COVID-19/pneumonia, as just like HIV, COVID-19 isn't what actually kills you, it's the effects that it causes that are deadly. (Caveat: I am not a doctor, this is just how I've heard it described.) – Darrel Hoffman – 2020-04-29T16:16:51.937

2@DarrelHoffman I thought COVID-19 was the disease (that's what the "d" stands for) and the actual name of the virus was sars-cov-2 or something like that? Definitely not a distinction made by the general public in either case, though. – Kat – 2020-04-29T16:56:03.407

@Kat Possibly, but either way, "coronavirus" is just a generic term for any number of viruses (most of which are far less dangerous than the specific one we're dealing with now), despite how the term has been used in the media. – Darrel Hoffman – 2020-04-29T17:03:50.153

@DarrelHoffman Just so you know, when I said "Great example - HIV/AIDS!" I meant to say that it is a great example to point out the difference between the "agent" and the "disease". – AIQ – 2020-04-29T18:34:34.243

@Kat is correct: WHO assigned the official names COVID-19 for the disease and SARS-CoV-2 for the virus; see Wikipedia and links therein for details.

– Federico Poloni – 2020-04-29T19:32:26.473

@DarrelHoffman sure, I see what you're saying. The second sentence in that paragraph is generally correct, if imprecise. The other sentence is not quite correct, although it does reflect the general usage of the word and explains why the question asker is seeing the examples they found. Maybe editing in a clarification about how the word is used by most people (and media) vs the technical names would improve the answer. – Kat – 2020-04-29T20:39:33.160

6

Since my own comment has gained so much attention in other answers, I thought I'd turn it into an actual answer myself.


The Prepositions With and By

Here are the definitions of the senses of the prepositions in use, per Merriam-Webster:

With:

6 a —used as a function word to indicate the means, cause, agent, or instrumentality
hit him with a rock
pale with anger
threatened with tuberculosis
she amused the crowd with his antics

By:

4 a : through the agency (see AGENCY sense 3) or instrumentality of
// a poem written by Keats
// death by firing squad
// taken by force
// happened by luck


I had used agent in my original comment when describing by; however, that can get confusing because of the multiple senses of that word. (And note that the definitions here actually use one sense of agent in association with the definition of with, while agency is used in association with by.)

It's perhaps better to express it differently.

  • When you use with, you are talking about an object or effect that is applied as a result of an action.
    → I was poisoned with arsenic.

  • When you use by you are talking about the subject or cause of an action.
    → I was poisoned by a criminal.

Putting the two together:

I was poisoned with arsenic by a criminal.

The Coronavirus

Forget the technical distinction between the virus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease COVID-19. Let's just assume that when people talk about the coronovirus they are talking about a single thing.

Going back to the difference between with and by.

Statement:

"I was poisoned with arsenic by a criminal."

Question and answer:

"Who or what poisoned you?"
"A criminal."

"What type of poison was it?"
"Arsenic."


But coronavirus actually does double duty, playing both semantic roles at the same time.

Statement:

"I was infected with the coronavirus by the coronavirus."

Question and answer:

"Who or what infected you?"
"The coronavirus."

"What type of infection was it?"
"The coronavirus."

This means that both of these are grammatical:

I was infected with the coronavirus.
I was infected by the coronavirus.

Even though the nature of the word coronavirus allows the sentences to often be used interchangeably, there is still a subtle difference between the two upon careful analysis.

Jason Bassford

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 34 584

5

One more distinction in use: in addition to referring to the contagion itself, infected by in the passive voice could refer more broadly to how the person was infected. Infected by means of (something).

This secondary meaning isn't there for infected with.

  • Julie hadn't left her house for weeks, but was infected by her boyfriend who was an "essential worker" at the local supermarket.
  • The lab researcher always took extreme care when drawing samples from the test subjects, but was infected by a needle accidentally dropped by her lab assistant.

BradC

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 1 979

1upvoted. good addition – michael – 2020-04-29T16:38:45.897

3

Over 200,000 people infected by coronavirus worldwide

This is just passive voice. To make sense of it, flip it around:

Coronavirus infected over 200,000 people worldwide

So, once coronavirus infected these people, they had coronavirus; you can now say they were infected with a virus.

I think Jason Bassford's comment is a perfect explanation.

Cranberry48

Posted 2020-04-29T01:17:28.990

Reputation: 189