What Are Germs?
The term "germs" refers to the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease.
Hand washing is the single most important thing your family can do to prevent germs from leading to infections and sickness.
Types of Germs
Bacteria are tiny, single-celled organisms that get nutrients from their environments. In some cases, that environment is your child or some other living being.
Some 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 used to produce medicines and vaccines.
Viruses can't survive, grow, and reproduce unless a person or an animal puts up rental space. Viruses can only live for a very short time outside other living cells. For example, viruses in infected bodily fluids left on surfaces like a countertop or toilet seat can live there for a short time, but quickly die unless a live host comes along.
Once they've moved into someone's body, though, viruses spread easily and can make a person sick. Viruses are responsible for some minor sicknesses like colds, common illnesses like the flu, and extremely serious diseases like smallpox or HIV/AIDS.
Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Antiviral agents have been developed against a small select group of viruses.
Fungi are multi-celled, plant-like organisms. They get nutrition from plants, food, and animals in damp, warm environments.
Many, such as athlete's foot and yeast infections, are not dangerous in a healthy person. People who have weakened immune systems (from diseases like HIV or cancer), though, may develop more serious fungal infections.
Protozoa are, like bacteria, one-celled organisms; many of which are able to move on their own. Protozoa love moisture, so intestinal infections and other diseases they cause are often spread through contaminated water. Some are also encapsulated in cysts, which help them live outside the human body and in harsh environments for long periods of time.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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