Do you contract a disease or a virus? Or either?

You are infected by a virus, not a disease. You can develop a disease, but not a virus (unless you are a virus-developing scientist, I guess — but you know that’s not what I mean).

I guess what I’m trying to figure out is if there’s any exclusivity between contracting a virus or a disease, or if you can technically contract anything (such as an odor — although colloquially not very common) and, in this context, "contract" is just fancy for "get" or "catch".


I contracted COVID-19.


I contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Related, but doesn’t answer my question:
Difference between contract and catch [a disease]


You can contract both disease and virus. Lexico is quite definitive: definition 3 of the verb contract is "Catch or develop (a disease or infectious agent)".

Contract(ing) a disease is certainly common. The OED has "To enter into, bring upon oneself (involuntarily), incur, catch, acquire, become infected with (something noxious, as disease, †mischief; bad habits or condition; †danger, †risk, †blame, guilt)." (with daggers indicating obsolete usages.) Examples go back to the 17th century e.g. "Thereby contracting dangerous Colds, Coughs and Catarrhs." (contract, v. OED Online) This is also found in modern scientific and general sources e.g. "Almost half of children who contract covid-19 may have lasting symptoms" (New Sci., 2021), "Dutch Minks Contract COVID-19" (NPR, 2020)

Contract a virus is also widely found. Collins Cobuild has some examples, e.g. "Hundreds of staff in 20 hospitals have been randomly tested as part of efforts to understand if they are contracting the virus from patients." (The Sunday Times, UK) "Imposing stricter restrictions in areas where people are at a low risk of contracting the virus would do unnecessary damage." (The Sun, UK) Lexico cited above gives "three people contracted a killer virus" as an example.

Source : Link , Question Author : Ayman Safadi , Answer Author : Stuart F

Leave a Comment