E A L T H:
Germ: (n.) A disease-producing microorganism.
In other words, a thing too tiny to see that can make you
These little critters come in two basic varieties. You've
got your bacteria and you've
got your viruses. What are
These guys are the oldest form of life on Earth and you
need a microscope to see them. (So for a really long time
they were affecting people and animals and nobody even knew
they existed! Pretty sneaky.)
Bacteria are everywhere.
Some are good and some are not so
- The Good Guys. Beneficial bacteria help
make nitrogen and sulfur available to plants so the
plants can grow and we can eat them and/or feed them
to animals which we then eat. (You know, the ol' Food
Chain.) Good bacteria live in your intestines and help
you digest food. They are also important in the
manufacture of food (i.e., yogurt, olive, cheese,
pickles, buttermilk, ice cream) and life-saving
- The Bad Guys. Some bacteria are harmful
because they cause certain diseases and are
responsible for food poisoning. Occasionally
your body is a temporary home for
causing bacteria). These bacteria are harmful because
they damage your body tissues. How? Either by directly
attacking your cells or by releasing poisonous
substances called "toxins."
How do bad bacteria get in your body to
- Through the air, in water, in food, by insects, or
by direct human contact.
Here are some common bacterial diseases:
Tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, Lyme disease,
typhus, cholera, whooping cough, bubonic plague. These
diseases can be "fatal" (can cause death) but are all
The Good News: Advances in medicine and
sanitation ("society cleaning up after itself") have
freed people in industrialized countries from serious
bacterial disease for the last 100 years.
The Bad News: Because of lack of education,
money, and technology much of the world's population
(often children) still get sick and die from these
How do we kill bad bacteria and stay healthy?
- Filtering and purifying drinking water with
chlorine (a chemical that kills bacteria)
- Collecting sewage and removing pathogens
before it is dumped into rivers or the ocean.
- Heating food to high enough temperatures
kills most bacteria and destroys their toxins.
- Cooling food to a few degrees above freezing
also prevents bacterial contamination. The
bacteria is not killed by the cold, but their rate of
growth is greatly slowed. (That's why food still goes
bad in the fridge, if you leave it there long
- Salmonella infections ("heavy duty food
poisoning") can kill you. These are caused by food
that's been left out of the refrigerator too long,
allowing bacteria to grow.
- Getting your "vaccinations" (You know...
"shots"). Once you have been vaccinated against a
certain bacteria, your immune system has defenses
ready to destroy any live bacteria before they have a
chance to make you ill. Most young children are
vaccinated against diphtheria, whooping cough, and
Before the 1940s, doctors had few
treatments for bacterial disease. Whether a person recovered
or died often depended more on the type of disease and the
strength of the patient than on the efforts of the doctor.
Then scientists discovered anti-bacterial drugs called
antibiotics (penicillin was the first one).
Antibiotics prevent bacteria from making new cell walls, so
Today, antibiotics are used to treat everything from ear
infections and "strep" throat to many STDs.
The word "virus" comes from the Latin word that means
"poison." Viruses are small particles consisting of genetic
material that invade cells. What makes them a real challenge
for "immunologists" (doctors who research ways of
preventing disease) is that they have the ability to change
(mutate). (A vaccine that might work for a certain
virus today, might not work for the "same" virus tomorrow
because the virus isn't the same any more!)
Antibiotics which usually work great on
bacteria have no effect on viruses. That's why
there is no cure for the common cold... it's caused by a
virus. (In fact, every cold you've ever had was actually
caused by a different type of virus!)
Here are some common (and serious) viral infections:
a cold, flu or influenza, AIDS, smallpox, measles,
chicken pox, rubella (German measles), infectious hepatitis,
polio, herpes, yellow fever.
Where do viruses come from?
- From the air. Most viral disease are
"airborne" (breathed in through the air).
That's how you get a cold or flu.
- From contaminated water. Some diseases,
like infectious hepatitis and polio, can spread
through contaminated water.
- From insects. Mosquitoes carry viruses such
as yellow fever and malaria.
- From contaminated body fluids. With
the virus is transmitted through unprotected sexual
- From contaminated blood. The HIV/AIDS,
virus can also be transmitted from one person to
another by, contaminated
Is There Protection Against Viruses? Vaccination
is the only effective defense against which remain
unchanged. Polio and smallpox, once deadly diseases, have
been virtually eliminated from the world by the discovery of
- There are still no vaccines for the common
cold, or HIV (because HIV, cold and flu
viruses change too often).
What Can You Do to Stay Healthy?
- Get adequate rest
and sleep. If your body is well-rested
it does a better job of fighting infections.
- Get all required immunizations. That means
getting your "shots."
- Eat a well
balanced diet. The energy we get from
good food makes our bodies better at fighting
- Get plenty of exercise.
This makes you stronger, increases your energy level,
and reduces stress. Three things that help your
body fight off infections.
- Manage your
stress load. Stressed people have a
harder time fighting infections.
- Wash your hands frequently. Use lots of
warm water and soap. Research says washing hands can
cut down your colds by more than 50%. This is because
we pick up germs on our hands whenever we shake hands
with someone or touch surfaces with germs on them
(which includes just about everything that people
use). Then we infect ourselves by transferring the
germs to our eyes, mouths, or things that go into our
mouths, like food.
- Avoid sick people. This is tricky,
especially since some people are most contagious
before they are having any disease symptoms.
- Make friends. No kidding. Research shows
that having a close circle of friends and family helps
to keep you healthier!
- Practice safe
sex. The best way to prevent Sexually
Transmitted Diseases and unwanted pregnancy.
- Don't smoke.
Cigarettes make you more likely to get lung