Germs. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some have cilia while others have flagella. Some have uracil, others have thymine. Some are good, some are bad.
How could such small organisms be so deadly and difficult to treat? Here’s a look at how the two differ.
Bacteria are single cell, prokaryote organisms that live in every kind of habitat on Earth. Some bacteria even live in radioactive waste. A vast majority of bacteria are completely harmless to the human body. Some bacteria are even beneficial for you! Bacteria are often very simple in structure and not nearly as complicated as some of our cells. In our cells, we have different structures called organelles than function in some of the same ways that our body’s organs do (hence the word organelles).
Bacteria get their energy from one of three sources: light, inorganic molecules, and organic molecules. The bacteria that live inside us get their energy from inorganic and organic compounds, but the relationship between us and our gut flora is symbiotic, meaning we benefit from each other. Bacteria often eat the extra waste and toxins that build up in our body and they also keep our immune system in tip-top shape. Bacteria are also capable of eating other bacteria, one of the most famous ones being Vampirococcus.
Bacteria that form a parasitic association with other organism (including humans) are known as pathogens. Pathogenic bacteria are by far the number one cause of infectious diseases. The two most common types of pathogens are Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. Bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but with every bacteria there is a different antibiotic to treat it. Bacteria can also act similar to other bacteria so it can be difficult to diagnose illnesses. Some bacteria, such as MRSA, have become resistant to common antibiotics and can be fatal.
Viruses differ vastly from bacteria. One main reason: viruses are not living organisms. Viruses have a very simple structure. There is genetic material, either DNA or RNA, on the inside which is covered by a coat made of certain proteins, and on that coat there are molecules known as lipids which are used for attaching onto bacterial or other cells. Viruses are very small, up to 10 times smaller than bacteria, and that’s what makes them tough to treat.
Viruses have several means of infection. Some viruses can be spread by blood-sucking insects, such as West Nile Virus. Other viruses can grow in food and water and infiltrate out digestive systems, causing gastroenteritis. Coughing and sneezing can send viruses into the air to be inhaled by someone else, which is how viruses like the flu are spread. Several STDs are viral organisms, such as Hepatitis B, Herpes, HPV, and HIV.
Viruses interfere with homeostasis, the process that allows your cells to function in a healthy manner. In the case of HIV/AIDS, the virus interferes with your T-Cells and Microphages, cells used by the immune system to combat disease.
Viruses work in two ways. The virus can infiltrate the cell where it can use your cell’s energy and reproduce it’s genetic code to make more of itself, then destroy the cell and send out its newly created minions. Or, the virus can latch onto the cell where it inserts its genetic material into the cell’s membrane. This newly introduced genetic material gets processed and inhibits the cell from functioning. Virus that transmit their genetic code are often viruses responsible for causing certain types of cancers such as HPV causing cervical cancer.
Not all diseases are caused by a bacteria or virus. Parasites, fungi, environmental toxins, and genetic mutations can all cause harm to the body. Bacteria and viruses tend to be the most common. If you think you may have a serious illness though, seek hospitalization immediately. The sooner the disease is caught, the more effective treatment is.
As long as you eat well and practice good hygiene, you’ll be well defended against any potential microbe invaders!
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.