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The World of Germs

Germs. They are everywhere but we are mostly unaware of their presence because they are invisible to us. We are told to wash our hands regularly to make sure they are not passed to other folks. But there is more to germs that meet the eye.

Germs are found on more than our hands. We can find them in the air, on doorknobs, in blood, in a sneeze. If they get inside an animal or a human, they thrive on our nutrients and energy. In turn, they produce toxins. These toxins produce symptoms in their host such as a fever, sore throat, infection, vomiting and diarrhea.

Basically, there are four types of germs.

Bacteria – are single cells that get their nutrients from their environment. There are good and bad bacteria. Some of the good bacteria are found in our gut and some of the bad cause infections.

Viruses – must  live inside cells in order to grow or reproduce. Once bacteria get inside of a body, they grow and can make its host sick. Chickenpox, flu and herpes are some examples of viruses.

Fungi – are made of many cells and are similar to plants. They prefer warm and damp places and most of them are not dangerous to humans. They get their nutrients from plants, animals and humans.  An example of a fungus would be athlete’s foot.

Protozoa – are one celled and they spread disease through water. Some types can cause diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain.1

In the past, bacterial germs were thought of as living by themselves but scientists report that they actually live in groups called bio-films. These bio films can grow and become large colonies or like cities actively communicating and sometimes cooperating together to grow. This is true for bacteria in our mouths and several types of infections such as ear infections or infections after a surgery.2

Washing our hands completely with soap and water is one of the best defenses to keeping these germs at bay. If soap and water are not available, using alcohol-based sanitizers can help to keep hands free of germs. It is important to keep hands clean before eating, after using the restroom, coughing or sneezing, handling human and animal waste material, handling raw meat and other circumstances that can expose hands to germs. Keeping hands and fingers out of the mouth can also help reduce exposure to germs.

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About Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

Pamela A. Williams, MPH, R.D.

is a dietitian in Southern California.

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