What Are Bacteria Made Of – (How They Spread?)
Bacteria are tiny microorganisms that are made up of a single cell. They are single-celled organisms that thrive in diverse environments. These organisms can live in soil, the ocean and inside the human gut. Bacteria and viruses can cause many common infections.
Only a handful of bacteria cause infections in humans. These bacteria are referred to as pathogenic bacteria. Viruses are another type of tiny microorganism, although they’re even smaller than bacteria. Like bacteria, they’re very diverse, and have a variety of shapes and features. Viruses are parasitic.
Sometimes bacteria lend us a helping hand, such as by curdling milk into yogurt or helping with our digestion. In other cases, bacteria are destructive, causing diseases like pneumonia and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
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Bacteria (singular: bacterium) are classified as prokaryotes, which are single-celled organisms with a simple internal structure that lacks a nucleus, and contains DNA that either floats freely in a twisted, thread-like mass called the nucleoid, or in separate, circular pieces called plasmids.
Bacterial cells are generally surrounded by two protective coverings: an outer cell wall and an inner cell membrane. Certain bacteria, like the mycoplasmas, do not have a cell wall at all. Some bacteria may even have a third, outermost protective layer called the capsule. Whip-like extensions often cover the surfaces of bacteria — long ones called flagella or short ones called pili — that help bacteria to move around and attach to a host.
How Are Bacterial Infections Spread?
Many bacterial infections are contagious, meaning that they can be spread from person to person. There are many ways this can occur, including:
- close contact with a person who has a bacterial infection, including touching and kissing.
- contact with the body fluids of an infected person, particularly after sexual contact, or when an infected person coughs or sneezes
- transmission from mother to child during pregnancy or birth
- coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs or faucet handles, and then touching your face, nose, or mouth
In addition to spreading from person to person, bacterial infections can also be spread through the bite of an infected insect. Additionally, consuming contaminated food or water can also lead to infection.
A few different criteria are used to classify bacteria. The organisms can be distinguished by the nature of their cell walls, by their shape, or by differences in their genetic makeup.
There are three basic bacterial shapes: Round bacteria called cocci (singular: coccus), cylindrical, capsule-shaped ones known as bacilli (singular: bacillus); and spiral bacteria, aptly called spirilla (singular: spirillum). The shapes and configurations of bacteria are often reflected in their names. For example, the milk-curdling Lactobacillus acidophilus are bacilli, and pneumonia-causing S. pneumoniae are a chain of cocci. Some bacteria take other shapes, such as stalked, square or star.
This artist’s image shows spherical bacteria. Both Staphylococcus and Streptococcus are spherical.
Some Common Bacterial Infections?
Some examples of bacterial infections include:
- strep throat
- urinary tract infection (UTI)
- bacterial food poisoning
- bacterial meningitis
- Lyme disease
How Are Bacteria Harmful In Human Health And Disease
If you consume or come in contact with harmful bacteria, they may reproduce in your body and release toxins that can damage your body’s tissues and make you feel ill.
Bacteria can be beneficial as well as detrimental to human health. The human gut is a comfortable setting for bacteria, with plenty of nutrients available for their sustenance. In a 2014 review article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the authors mention that gut bacteria and other microorganisms, such as helpful strains of E.coli and Streptococcus, aid in digestion, stave off colonization by harmful pathogens, and help to develop the immune system. Moreover, the disruption of gut bacteria has been linked to certain disease conditions. For instance, patients with Crohn’s disease have an increased immune response against gut bacteria, according to a 2003 review published in the journal The Lancet.
Other bacteria can cause infections. Several bacteria — ranging from so-called group A Streptococcus, Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens), E. coli and S. aureus can cause a rare but severe soft tissue infection called necrotizing fasciitis (sometimes called flesh-eating bacteria). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this infection affects the tissues surrounding muscles, nerves, fat and blood vessels; it can be treated, especially when caught early.
Antibiotic Resistance To Bacterial?
Antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial infections.There are many different types of antibiotics, but they all work to keep bacteria from effectively growing and dividing. They’re not effective against viral infections. However, in recent years, improper and unnecessary use of antibiotics has promoted the spread of several strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In cases of antibiotic resistance, the infectious bacteria are no longer susceptible to previously effective antibiotics. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, leading to the death of at least 23,000 people.
If you’re prescribed antibiotics for a bacterial infection, take your entire course of antibiotics — even if you begin to feel better after a couple of days. Skipping doses can prevent all of the pathogenic bacteria from being killed.
How To Prevent Bacterial Infections
You can follow the tips below to help prevent becoming ill with a bacterial infection:
Practice Good Hygiene
Be sure to wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and before and after handling food.
Avoid touching your face, mouth, or nose if your hands aren’t clean. Don’t share personal items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, or toothbrushes.
A multitude of vaccines are available to help prevent various viral and bacterial illnesses. Examples of vaccine-preventable diseases include:
- whooping cough
Talk to your doctor about the vaccines that are available to you.
Practice Safe Sex
Using condoms can help prevent getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Limiting your number of sexual partners has been shown to reduce your risk of getting an STD.
Make Sure That Your Food Is Cooked Thoroughly
Make sure all meats are cooked to the proper temperature. Be sure to thoroughly wash any raw fruits or vegetables before eating. Don’t let leftover food items sit at room temperature. Instead, refrigerate them promptly.
Protect Against Bug Bites
Be sure to use insect repellent containing ingredients such as DEET or picaridin if you’re going to be outside where insects such as mosquitoes and ticks are prevalent. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, if possible.
- Watch: Bacteria: Energy Producers of the Future? From the National Science Foundation.
- Learn how bakers and their bread are a microbial match, from NPR.