Infectious diseases aren’t quite like other diseases. Diseases, in general, can range from autoimmune disorders to cancer and heart disease. Many diseases of this nature often fall under the category of genetic disease or disease of aging.
While many infectious diseases can, in part, be due to “bad” genetics, others are more likely to creep up in those with a weakened immune system. If you already live with an autoimmune disorder, you can be at a much higher risk to contract a number of infectious diseases. But how are they caused? What makes these nasty, and often comfortable, infections take root in our bodies?
How Infectious Disease Can Invade Your Body
Infectious diseases result in the tissues of your body being harmed by the invasion of a variety of damaging agents. These agents could arrive in a number of different forms including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi, helminths, and prions. There’s a good chance that only a few of these infectious agents sound familiar to you, and an even higher chance that you are unaware of the extent of the damage that can be caused by certain infections. Below you will find information that helps bring the true nature of these sneaky pathogens to light. Pathogens and microbes will be used interchangeably, as pathogens are the microbes that cause infectious disease.
Infectious diseases can be transported through several different modes. Since animals carry them, you could potentially pick one up from Bingo’s puppy kisses. Correspondingly, contaminated food and water can easily transport these harmful agents into your body. As you well know by now, viruses and bacteria can also be picked up from touching contaminated surfaces or from having close contact with an individual who is hosting a pathogen. In all reality, we can contract varying pathogens in a multitude of different ways. The good news is that there are only a few harmful microbes that are able to take up residence in our bodies and cause illness.
The shocking thing about viruses is that varying types have been found to infect all organisms. Viruses are so powerful that they can even infect fungi and bacteria! That means that when viruses come into play, you could potentially end up with a two-for-one special…on the special you hoped to miss out on this week. Once you are infected with a virus, disease is caused by the disruption of normal cell function. However, the forms in which this disruption comes can differentiate greatly. While some viral proteins can be toxic to you, others are able to be fought off by your immune system.
Viruses are to blame for that infectious disease that almost everyone has encountered: the common cold. They are responsible for producing multiple sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes and other diseases that produce painful lesions in the genital area. A few other diseases that are commonly caused by viruses are:
- chicken pox
There are seven different groups of bacteria, with four of them making up the majority of all bacteria on the planet. That number doesn’t sound too bad until you realize there are around 30,000 known species of bacteria. The truth is that the number of known bacteria isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. In fact, bacteria are so prevalent that they are the most abundant organism there is. Since there are so many different species of bacteria, the ways in which they source energy and morph can vary wildly. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there is cause to panic. The role of bacteria is so crucial to our ecosystem and food chain that all life on Earth would cease to exist without them.
While most bacteria that live in and all around us are the reason that we are alive, there are a few species that can put your health at serious risk. Some species of bacteria are known to cause infectious diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, meningitis, and cholera. The sexually transmitted disease known as gonorrhea and syphilis are also caused by bacterial infections. One species of bacteria, known as clostridium tetani, can be lethal to humans due to the toxin it produces.
In a similar fashion to bacteria, protozoans lack cell walls. The downside to this is that they are capable of easily and quickly mutating and moving from one host to the other due to their variety of flexible and rapid movements. The transportation methods of protozoans differ greatly from viruses and bacteria, in that they can only be transferred to humans in three modes. You can only come into contact with protozoans through contaminated water, contaminated food and bug bites (primarily mosquito bites).
The most common infectious disease caused by this microbe is diarrhea. However, the 300 to 500 million annual cases of Malaria are also caused by protozoa. Cryptosporidium infection is another type of infection caused by protozoa called cryptosporidium parvum. This is a parasitic protozoan, meaning it can be classified as both a protozoan and helminth. This particular type of pathogen is strong enough to resist several chemical and medicinal treatments. Dr. Todd Watts from MicrobeFormulas.com explains that even disinfecting swimming pools and spas with chlorine can fail at killing off the cryptosporidium parasite that causes diarrhea based illness. He also often uses the phrase, “if you have a pulse, you have parasites”. This is because parasites either live on or in all animals, soil and bodies of water. Because of this, more and more state parks and recreation areas are posting detailed memos describing how to properly sanitize cooking utensils and decontaminate water.
Fungi works with bacteria to help the planet, and all living things on it, survive. They stay hard at work with one very vital role: operating as decomposers. Another thing they have in common with both viruses and bacteria is that many types of fungi are capable of infecting plants and animals. One type of fungi is yeast, which is known to cause a throat infection called thrush, as well as vaginal yeast infections. Ringworm is a type of parasitic fungus that is easily transferred through skin-to-skin contact. While fungi are known to cause several more annoying infections, like athlete’s foot, it can also cause much more severe infectious diseases such as the lung infection known as histoplasmosis.
Helminths are unlike other harmful microbes in the sense that they are not simply organisms. Rather, they are simple, invertebrate animals. With this knowledge, you may have already concluded that some of these are infectious parasites. These pathogens are very frequently found on or in animals and humans, as multiple (and sometimes all) stages of their maturation cycle require a living host. A couple of these infectious diseases and how they affect the human body are:
- Schistosoma is the flatworm that can causes something as mild as a common skin rash dubbed “swimmer’s itch”. It can also cause a more serious disease, schistosomiasis that causes damage to the tissues of organs and often results in severe abdominal pain and diarrhea.
- Trichinella spiralis is a roundworm that causes trichinosis. This particular agent is typically consumed when eating undercooked pork that came from an infected pig. Typical symptoms of trichinosis include fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but can grow to include intense muscular pain. In some cases, when this infectious disease is left untreated, it can result in respiratory paralysis or congestive heart failure.
Prions are the latest agent to earn their own category. This is a unique type of infectious particles, in that it consists solely of protein. Since it has only recently been discovered that certain central nervous system disorders are linked to prions, there is little that is known about them. In fact, only one known prion disease is known to occur in humans and that is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. This disease affects humans in the same way that other prion diseases affect cows and sheep. The result of these diseases is a brain that has multiple holes throughout it. Previously it was believed that this disease was inherited, but it has now been learned that it can also be transferred through eating infected animal products and receiving infected tissue transplants.
How to Protect Yourself
While it would be impossible for anyone to avoid all of the pathogens described here, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from harmful microbes that cause infectious disease.
Here’s how you can help to protect yourself:
- Be sure to wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap. Always wash your hands after using the restroom and before preparing food or beverages. If you are sick, wash your hands more often.
- When preparing food, ensure that your hands, cooking area and cooking utensils are all cleaned thoroughly. Also, ensure that any raw food is properly cooked through to the correct temperature.
- Keep your living area clean and tidy. Be sure to clean regularly used surface areas clean and use some sort of disinfectant when cleaning the bathroom and kitchen.
- When coughing or sneezing use your sleeve near your elbow to cover your mouth and nose. You want to protect others and avoid spreading any pathogens you may be carrying. However, you also don’t want to lengthen your illness. Nor do you want to spread germs anywhere if you forget to wash your hands after using them to cover your face.
- Don’t ever share personal items such as toothbrushes and razors, as they cannot be properly disinfected between uses.
- Different vaccines are available to both children and adults. Many of these vaccines can prevent several different infectious diseases.
- Avoid coming into close contact with wild animals that may be carrying infectious diseases or the pathogens that cause them.
- Venture out only as often as absolutely necessary when you are sick. This way, you are less likely to spread harmful microbes to others.
Many people wrongly assume that there’s no chance that they will ever find themselves dealing with a severe infectious disease. However, some of these diseases can be transmitted as easily as the pathogens that cause the common cold. This is why it’s vital to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. In the event that you do find yourself being diagnosed with an infectious disease, there are a variety of treatment methods. While more aggressive antibiotics are often prescribed for certain parasitic infections, there are also a variety of natural supplements that can be taken to treat milder infectious diseases.