Pathogens are classified as any kind of organism that can cause a disease. As you will be aware, there are thousands of different pathogens, and they can all cause different diseases.
While some are mild, others are severe and even life-threatening. These diverse diseases are still being studied today, and many of them do not yet have treatments.
Here, we are going to take a look at pathogens to gain a better understanding of them. What they are, what they do, and how to prevent their spread. If you’re interested in finding out more, just keep reading.
Types Of Pathogens
There are many types of pathogens. Another term they go by is “infectious agent”, since they are known to cause infections to its host.
Like all living organisms, a pathogen will prioritize reproduction and survival above all else. As such, they can be difficult to deal with.
While our bodies have immune systems that defend us against these pathogens, it isn’t able to protect us from all of them.
Some pathogens can be fought off with ease, while others can be fatal. Some types of pathogens are known to be more dangerous than others, but all have the potential to be life-threatening. Let’s take a look at the five primary types of pathogens below.
Viruses are tiny. A virus will invade a host cell and replicate to produce thousands of new viruses. These replicated viruses will then continue to do so and keep infecting more host cells.
Unfortunately, viruses can easily be passed from one person to another. This can be done in a number of ways, including the following:
- Contact with bodily fluids of someone who has a viral infection
- Contact with blood of someone who has a viral infection
- Contact with respiratory droplets that can easily travel through the air and get breathed in
These are microscopic pathogens that are a little larger than viruses. These are able to rapidly reproduce once they enter the body, which provides perfect conditions. They are able to release toxins that can cause tissue damage and result in various illnesses.
To treat a bacterial infection, antibiotics are typically prescribed by doctors. However, this is done rarely, as many bacteria have the ability to become immune to these antibiotics.
With that being said, it’s important to note that not all bacteria are pathogens. There are many types of harmful and beneficial bacteria in the world and even within the human body. Some of these bacteria are essential to life, and are not harmful in any way.
Fungi are very common throughout the world. There are thousands of fungi species, and some of them can cause diseases in both humans and animals.
Many fungal infections are very contagious, and can spread to people via contact. Two very common fungal infections include athlete’s foot and ringworm.
Some studies, such as this one, have found that fungal pathogens seem to be evolving a capacity for memory. This research has found that the pathogens can use signals within the body to actually anticipate imminent threats that will threaten their survival.
This allows them to prepare themselves before the threat arrives, giving them a better chance at surviving.
As a result, fungal pathogens may be more problematic and difficult to get rid of than ever before.
Protists are single-celled organisms. They are known to cause diseases in the hosts they survive in, then reproduce and thrive.
These protist pathogens are known to impact food crops and plants. When food contains protists, it causes dysentery. This is an infection that happens in the intestines, and it can cause symptoms such as diarrhea.
These pathogens can also be parasitic and live in various other organisms, though. These organisms include things like mosquitoes.
When protists are present in organisms like the mosquito, they cause malaria, which infects people through the bites of the female insects.
The final main type of pathogens are parasitic worms. The other name given to these organisms are helminths.
These parasites are big enough to see with the naked eye, and can live in various areas within the bodies of humans and animals. Some common parasitic worms include:
- Roundworms – worms that live in the gastrointestinal tract as well as the lymphatic system
- Thorny-head worms – worms that thrive in the intestines
- Tapeworms – worms live in the digestive system
- Whipworm – worms live in the intestines of organisms
- Pinworms – worms live in the intestines
- Hookworms – worms line in the small intestine
Pathogen Diseases And Their Severity
As we mentioned before, pathogens can be responsible for minor and severe diseases. They are responsible for a wide variety of diseases, too.
Since the human body, and the bodies of animals, are typically very nutrient-rich, they provide the perfect environment for pathogens. These perfect environments allow the pathogens to multiply at incredible speeds.
The common cold is a great example of a viral pathogen that is very mild and, in many cases, is little more than a blocked nose and a little fatigue.
Other diseases, however, such as Ebola or SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19), can have much more lethal effects.
Some common diseases from bacterial pathogens include the following:
- Food Poisoning
When it comes to viruses, there has been a debate as to whether they are living organisms or not. Some scientists are that they are not for the following reasons:
- They don’t respond to changes in their environment actively
- They are unable to reproduce if they do not invade a cell
- They do not have cells
Whether they are living organisms or not, they are responsible for a number of deadly diseases. Some of which are as follows:
- SARS-CoV-2 (causes coronavirus)
- Coronavirus (causes common colds)
Of the thousands of fungi species, only around 300 of them are pathogenic to humans. This means that only a few of the total population are dangerous to humans in any way.
Like the viruses and bacteria, fungi can be responsible for both mild and severe diseases in humans.
Some common illnesses that fungi cause are the following:
- Infections of the bloodstream
- Nail and skin infections
- Pneumonia and other lung infections
Protozoa causes protist diseases. These single-celled microorganisms are known to feed on other debris, microorganisms, and organic tissues. Protist diseases include the following:
- Sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis)
Parasitic worms are relatively common in some areas, and some animals are more susceptible to certain worms than others. Some diseases that parasitic worms might cause include the following:
- Lymphatic Filariasis
How Pathogens Spread
There are a number of ways that pathogens can spread. Some can be spread simply by making skin-to-skin contact, while others require bodily fluids.
Contact made during sex can lead to STIs, or sexually transmitted diseased. Similarly, sneezing or coughing can also spread diseases.
The tiny droplets from coughs and sneezes stay in the air and spread. These droplets, which often contain pathogenic microorganisms, are then breathed in by other spread. As a result, the disease spreads to others.
Many microorganisms can also travel straight to places like the gut or intestines. This will happen if a person eats food that is contaminated.
Bites from infected organisms will also spread many pathogens. For example, malaria and the Zika virus is spread by the bite of some species of female mosquitoes.
Ticks also spread Lyme disease by biting people. All of these diseases can be deadly, and are more common in some parts of the world, such as Africa.
Preventing Pathogen Infections
Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to protect yourself from pathogens. Some steps are very easy for most people, while others might be a little more challenging.
However, if you want to reduce the risk of pathogens getting the best of you, try following the suggestions laid out below:
Wash (And Dry) Your Hands Frequently
Pathogens can easily be spread by our hands. As such, it is crucial that we wash them regularly, especially after handling certain materials or substances.
Always wash your hands after going to the toilet, being outside, or handling dirty things. You should also wash your hands before coming into contact with babies and anyone who may be at risk.
Stay Up To Date With Vaccines
It is crucial that you stay up to date on your vaccinations of infectious diseases. Vaccines for children and babies for diseases like whooping cough, influenza, and MMR are crucial and can save lives.
Vaccines allow your immune system to learn how to fight the pathogens in the vaccine, which in turn enables the body to defeat them if they ever come into contact again.
Vaccinations do not necessarily prevent all diseases from being present in an individual, they simply give you a better chance at fighting the disease off. When this happens, you may not even realize you had the disease in the first place.
Try To Keep Surfaces In The House Clean
it’s very easy to transfer contamination from objects to surfaces and vice versa. As such, clean surfaces down frequently and use powerful cleaning products that will kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Clean Bathrooms And Kitchens Properly
bathrooms are notorious for being the hub of infectious agents in the house, as are kitchens.
Make sure you use antibacterial and antiviral cleaners in these places, especially on the surfaces. This is incredibly important, more so if you prepare food on these surfaces.
Stay At Home When You’re Not Well
by staying at home when you are ill, you will prevent others from getting the same sickness. This can relate to work, school, or anything else. Make sure you are always looking out for other peoples’ health as well as your own.
Avoid Getting Insect Bites
if you’re going somewhere that you will encounter insects, prevent yourself from getting bitten by using repellant, and dressing appropriately. Wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and other things that will cover your skin.
Check For Insect Bites
if you have been out somewhere that there are a lot of insects, always check for bites or insects. Check your hairline and other places where there is body hair.
You should also always check for ticks in your socks and the surrounding area, as they often make themselves at home there.
Always Have Safe Sex
if you are sexually active, ensure that you get regular checkups to make sure you don’t have STIs, and always use protection such as condoms.
Always Seek Out Medical Advice And Help
if you feel like something might be wrong, talk to a medical professional and try to get some answers. Don’t leave things too late if you suspect something isn’t right.
Pathogens are things that impact all living organisms in some way. While not all pathogens affect humans, it’s important that we are aware of them. Many of them affect livestock and animals, which can have a knock-on effect on us.
While pathogens might sound scary – and some of them are – they don’t pose as much of a risk if you take effective measures to help yourself. Carry out the following tips mentioned above, and there’s a good chance that pathogens will rarely be an issue.
Of course, we will all come into contact with pathogens, and sometimes they will get the best of us, but that’s just a part of life. As long as you do all you can to protect yourself and others, try not to worry about pathogens too much.
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