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Understanding germs: bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections

Immune | January 12, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Immune

Understanding germs: bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections

Germs are everywhere—you can find these microbes in food, water, soil and even inhabiting your body. Sometimes they co-exist in the body in harmony and are actually beneficial i.e. bacterial strains found in probiotics and yeasts found in fermented foods. Sometimes, however, they can cause serious problems by secreting toxins, damaging cells and tissues and lead to infectious diseases. Here’s a breakdown of various kinds of microbes, what diseases they cause and how to prevent them.

Different infectious agents

Infectious diseases are caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.

Micro-organisms that cause disease are collectively called pathogens and can spread between individuals. They eventually lead to disease by disrupting normal bodily processes and/or by stimulating the immune system to produce a defensive response i.e. high fever, inflammation and cough.

Bacteria

Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that come in many shapes including ball, rod and spiral-shaped. Most bacteria are not harmful, and some are actually beneficial. Less than 1% of bacteria is infectious—which can multiply in the body leading to disease. They produce toxins which can make you very ill.

Bacteria are spread by:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Surface and skin contact
  • Bodily fluids such as blood and saliva
  • Sexual intercourse

bacteriaMost bacteria, apart from the sphere-shaped variety (cocci), move around with the aid of a tail or flagella. Under correct conditions they reproduce by dividing in two and can multiply into a large population quite rapidly. If the environmental conditions don’t suit the bacteria, they can become dormant and are referred to as spores. They develop a thick outer coating and await the appropriate change of conditions.

Examples of infections caused by bacteria include:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Chlamydia
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Strep throat
  • Some urinary tract infections

Viruses

Viruses are tiny infectious agents that have a simple structure—consisting of DNA or RNA within a protein capsule. They can only replicate in the living cells of other organisms.

Viruses are responsible for causing a variety of diseases, including:

  • Influenza
  • Common cold
  • AIDS
  • Chicken pox and shingles
  • Measles

Viruses are spread in very much the same way as bacteria. They can enter the body through a vector such as a mosquito, a cut on the skin, ingesting food or contact with infected surfaces, bodily fluids or faeces.

Antibiotics designed to kill bacteria are ineffective against viruses.

Fungi

Most fungi are harmless, and we eat quite a few of them.

Included in the kingdom fungi are mushrooms, moulds in blue or green vein cheese and yeasts in bread.

Other types of fungi can lead to illness. Examples include:

FungiAthletes foot—causing itching, scaling and cracking of the skin on the feet. Infection is usually triggered by moist environments such as sweaty feet in shoes.‚Äč

Candida—can cause thrush, infection of the mouth, throat, stomach and urinary tract. Infection commonly occurs in people who take antibiotics or have an impaired immune system.

Ringworm—reddish, itchy, scaly rash that usually occurs on the skin and scalp.

Fungal infections often affect the lungs, skin or nails. Some infections may also penetrate the body to affect organs and cause whole-body infections.
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Parasites

Parasites are organisms that live on or inside another organism and benefit by getting nutrients at the expense of their host. They often spend part of their life cycle outside of the host, living in food, soil, water or insects. They can invade your body by eating contaminated food or drink.

Malaria is transmitted to humans via a vector such as a mosquito.

Many parasites call your intestinal tract home and are harmless.

Examples of diseases that parasites cause include:

  • Giardia
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Cryptosporidiosis

There are several types of parasites that infect humans:

Rounds worms—also called nematodes, these are worms with a long round body. They can get into humans and animals by ingestion, directly penetrating the skin or through insect bites. Examples include whipworm, hookworms and Wuchereria bancrofti which are transmitted via mosquitos.

Tapeworms—these are flat, segmented worms that live in the intestines of some animals and humans. They are usually transmitted to humans by eating undercooked meat from infected animals. Their larvae can migrate to other parts of the body. Examples include pork, beef or fish tapeworm.

Flukes—also called blood flukes, this type of parasitic flatworm is usually obtained from swimming in contaminated water. Blood fluke larvae are released from infected snails into freshwater.  Liver flukes can be found in raw or undercooked fish or water plants and can live in the body of the host for decades.

Protozoa—are delivered by biting insects or are ingested via contaminated water or food. Protozoa are single celled parasites that can divide only within a host organism. Examples include Giardia, Plasmodium falciparum and Trichomonas.
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How to avoid infectious diseases

The following tips can help you to prevent infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites from food.

  • Wash fruit and veg before consuming
  • Never eat raw or undercooked meat
  • Keep surfaces and utensils clean when preparing food
  • During food prep keep meat separate from other foods
  • Eat food well within the expiry date and store appropriately
  • Filter water Click Here For Article

Handwashing

HandwashingYou should also wash your hands with soap and water. This is especially important after using the toilet, changing a nappy, before preparing and eating food, after touching an animal or cleaning up their waste. If you or someone you are in close contact with is sick with an infection, it’s important to wash your hands regularly during this time.

Look after yourself

If you eat a clean, healthy diet, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight and regularly implement techniques to reduce stress in your life these will all boost your ability to fight off infection.

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References

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/infectious-diseases/in-depth/germs/art-20045289

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/infections-bacterial-and-viral

Hassona Y, et al. Oral helminthic infestations. J Investig Clin Dent. 2015 May;6(2):99-107

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24574305

Maggioli G, et al. Expression, purification and characterization of two leucine aminopeptidases of the blood fluke, Schistosoma mansoni. Mol Biochem Parasitol. 2018 Jan;219:17-23

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29169803

https://www.healthline.com/health/worms-in-humans

 

 

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