Types of Bacteria and Viruses: Be Afraid, Very, Very Afraid



A bacteria is a living, microscopic organism. They are found everywhere in our environment as well as on and in our bodies. No matter what you do, you cannot get rid of them all. At best, you can reduce their numbers somewhat. While most of us equate bacteria with illness this oversimplifies the situation. Not only are most bacteria harmless, but some of them are necessary for life. For example, without certain types of bacteria in our intestines the food we consume wouldn't be digested and we would die from malnutrition. These ‘good' bacteria are sometimes referred to as probiotic. Many of us even try to eat certain foods, such as cheese and yogurt, with the express purpose of increasing our probiotics.

Some of the probiotic bacteria include: Lactobacillus, Escherichia Coli, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, and Bacillus Coagulans.

The immune system is usually quite good at keeping bacteria from over reproducing. However, when something goes wrong with this system, even good bacteria can cause illness, such as with Streptococcus and Escherichia Coli. In some cases antibiotics are administered to help the body fight the bacterial infection.

Harmful Bacteria

Borrelia Burgdorferi: A subgroup of Spirochete, this bacteria causes lyme disease. An infection, which if not treated, can cause a rash at the site of infection, sore joints, irregular heart rhythm, and nervous system damage. Because this bacteria usually enters the body through a tiny tick, which is hard to see, it is often very difficult to find the source of infection.

E. coli: A bacterium that is naturally found in our intestines. Most types of E. coli are harmless, but some, such as E. coli 0157:H7, can cause bloody diarrhea, kidney failure, and death. It is found in undercooked meet products, unpasteurized milk and juices, some cheeses, untreated water, and contaminated fruits and vegetables.

Listeria: This bacteria is usually found in foods such as cheese, hot dogs, hamburgers, and unpasteurized milk. Outbreaks in food factories can lead to many illnesses and some deaths, as well as a huge expense for the company to try and eradicate the bacteria. Antibiotics are the best treatment in serious cases or in cases where a woman is pregnant.

Salmonella: A common bacteria which infects the intestines and causes food poisoning. Sources of salmonella are eggs, poultry, cheese, contaminated fresh vegetables and fruits, and unpasteurized milk. It can cause nausea, vomiting, headache, chills, and diarrhea. Antibiotics may be used to treat the illness, however, they are not always beneficial. Hydration is vital if there is severe vomiting or diarrhea.

Spirillum: A group of bacteria which can cause stomach inflammation and ulcers. It is usually found in areas of poor sanitation and consumed by eating undercooked poultry.

Tetanus: This is a bacteria that is usually found in soil and in rusted metal. If there is a break in the skin, the bacteria can enter rather easily. Once a person is infected, they can suffer from muscle spasms, usually beginning with the jaw (lock-jaw) then progressing to other body parts. If it progresses it can also lead to high heart rate, sweating, and fever. Without treatment, about 10% of the infected will die. Luckily, prevention only involves one injection about every 10 years.

Treponema Pallidum: A subgroup of spirochete, Treponema causes the sexually transmitted disease syphilis.

Vibrio Cholerae: A bacteria that is found in water. If consumed, it can cause an intestinal infection that leads to severe diarrhea and therefore dehydration. If not treated properly it can lead to death.


Viruses are a non-living microscopic entities. On their own they can do nothing. They cannot grow and cannot multiply. However, once they find a host, such as a human cell, they can reproduce in large numbers rather quickly by using the body's own resources. Unlike bacteria there are no healthy viruses. In addition, because a virus will use the body's on DNA and lives inside human cells it is not as easily recognized by the immune system. This allows it to go undetected for longer time periods. The best way to fight a virus is by immunization, before the infection occurs. Treating a serious virus once it has taken hold is very difficult.

Some Examples of Common Viruses

Chicken Pox: An airborne virus, also called varicella, which can spread through coughing or sneezing. It is characterized by itchy blisters throughout the body, as well as feeling tired and having headaches. In complicated cases it can result in pneumonia and brain inflammation. Proper vaccination, which is about 80% effective, has brought this disease under control in developed nations.

Ebola: A very serious and almost always fatal disease. Initial symptoms include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It then quickly progresses to shutting down the liver and kidney. Then it gets really nasty, where blood begins to pour from orifices or from the skin. In addition to the disease being around 90% fatal, with no known cure, it is highly contagious. However, at the time of this article, there were some reports that an effective vaccine has been developed by Canadian scientists.

Hepatitis: A virus that can damage the liver. There are vaccines available for some types of hepatitis but not all. It is spread via contaminated stools from an infected person.

Herpes: Officially called Herpes Simplex Virus, it spreads primarily through saliva. The virus is probably best known for the blisters and lesions it causes on the lips and on the genitals. When these blisters or lesions are present the virus can be spread. The problem is, blisters are not always visible, so a person can spread the virus without even knowing it. There is no cure for the virus, but medications, or lifestyle changes, can reduce the severity, frequency, and duration of outbreaks.

HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Disease. This is a virus which literally attacks the body's own immune system. By doing so, it makes your immune system weaker, therefore you become more susceptible to other viruses and illnesses. These ‘other' illnesses are called opportunistic. Many times, these opportunistic illnesses would not be a problem, but because of the weakened immune system, they can become fatal. The term AIDS (Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome) is the term given to the disease once it has reached its final stages and the person has acquired an opportunistic illness. Although there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, there are medicines that can prolong a person's life for several years.

Influenza: Not to be confused with the common cold, influenza is more serious. Sometimes referred to as the flu, it can make the person bed ridden for several days, with symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, sore muscles and joints, sore throat, coughing, sneezing, and diarrhea. As with most viruses, antibiotics have minimal effect and therefore it has to run its course. Although there are yearly vaccinations, its effectiveness for the general population remains questionable. With high risk groups, if infected, medical care is strongly advised.

Measles: The measles, also called red measles or rubeola, is a highly contagious disease. It is an airborne virus so it can spread quite easily. After the initial symptoms of fever and a runny nose, a rash will develop possibly covering most of the body. Sometimes complications can occur, such as diarrhea, blindness, and brain inflammation. The measles vaccine has been effective in reducing the number of cases and in reducing the complications from the disease.

Mumps: If you get infected with the mumps virus you will most likely have a fever, a headache, feel tired, and might have swollen salivary glands. But some people don't show any signs or symptoms. Due to extensive vaccination efforts, this virus is almost non-existent in developed countries, but some outbreaks still occur. Although there is no specific treatment, serious complications from the mumps is extremely low.

Norwalk Virus: This virus can cause the stomach flu. It is very contagious and is found in contaminated food or drinks. It is a group of viruses that can live on surfaces or be spread through contact with an infected person.

Rabies: In most countries the rabies virus has been eradicated while in other areas it's still quite common. It is a virus that is transmitted by warm blooded animals, usually through a bite. The virus attacks the central nervous system. There is a vaccine, which can also act as a cure, but it must be administered before any signs or symptoms appear. Once signs and symptoms have appeared the virus is almost always fatal. Death, without the vaccine, usually occurs within 2 to 4 weeks.

Shingles: The same virus that causes Chickenpox can cause Shingles in anyone that has previously had chickenpox. It is a virus that affects the nerves. The symptoms can be quite painful and can also include numbness, tingling, rashes, and blisters. There can also be nausea and vomiting, joint pain, and fever. Although there is no cure for the Shingles virus, an attack episode will usually pass after 2-3 weeks. There is however a relatively new vaccine which must be taken before the illness is obtained.

West Nile: Usually spread through mosquito bites from infected mosquitoes, but it can also be spread through blood transfusions, organ transplants, and to babies via breastfeeding. There is no treatment for the virus itself, so patients are just treated for their symptoms, which includes fever, headaches, swollen lymph glands, and sore joints. The West Nile virus has been spreading throughout more and more of the US in recent years.

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