You may think germs are something you don’t have to worry about – only the people selling toilet cleaners on TV are concerned with germs. But germs are tiny organisms that can cause disease – and they’re so small that they can creep into your system without you noticing. You even need a microscope to see them. To stay healthy, it helps to give some thought to germs.
The term germs is really just a generic word for four different types of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa.
Bacteria (pronounced: bak-tir-ee-uh) are tiny, single-celled organisms that get nutrients from their environments. In some cases, that environment is you or some other living being. A certain number of bacteria are good for our bodies – they help keep the digestive system in working order and keep harmful bacteria from moving in. Some bacteria are even used to produce medicines and vaccines. But bacteria can cause trouble, too – ever had a cavity, urinary tract infection, or strep throat? These infections are all caused by bacteria.
Viruses (pronounced: vye-rus-iz) can’t live on their own. In order to survive, grow, and reproduce, they need to be inside other living organisms. Most viruses can only live for a very short time outside other living cells. For example, they can stay on surfaces like a countertop or toilet seat in infected bodily fluids for a short period of time, but they quickly die there unless a live host comes along. But some viruses, such as the kind that cause hepatitis (an infection of the liver), can survive on surfaces for a week or longer and still be able to cause infections.
Once they’ve moved into your body, though, viruses spread easily and can make you quite sick. Viruses are responsible for not-so-serious diseases like colds as well as extremely serious diseases like smallpox.
Fungi (pronounced: fun-jye) are multicelled, plant-like organisms that usually aren’t dangerous in a healthy person. Fungi can’t produce their own food from soil, water, and air, so instead, they get nutrition from plants, food, and animals in damp, warm environments. (Put a pop up here that explains that there is always a residual amount of moisture left throughout the air-con / ventilation system whenever the car is turned off. Combining heat with this moisture creates the the perfect breeding environment for fungi Two common fungal
infections include athlete’s foot and yeast infections. People who have weakened immune systems (from diseases like AIDS or cancer) may develop more serious fungal infections.
Protozoa (pronounced: pro-toe-zo-uh) are one-celled organisms like bacteria. Protozoa love moisture, so intestinal infections and other diseases they cause are often spread through contaminated water.
Once organisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa invade your body, they get ready to stay for a while. These germs draw all their energy from you! They may damage or destroy your own healthy cells. As they use up your nutrients and energy, most will produce waste products, known as toxins.
Some toxins cause the annoying symptoms of common colds or flu-like infections, such as sniffles,