A Beginner's Guide to Pathogens: Everything to Know
Have you ever wondered why you get sick with a cold or the stomach flu? There are many different causes of diseases, but when you're speaking about an infectious illness, pathogens are to blame. These often microscopic organisms use humans and animals for survival at our expense. Our bodies recognize them as dangerous foreign invaders and trigger an immune response. Want to take action and protect your health? Read on for our simple guide to pathogens that covers all the basics.
Types of Pathogens
Pathogens come in many different forms and can cause a wide range of illnesses. Here are the five main types of pathogens to watch out for and some examples of each:
- Bacteria: simple single-cell organisms that can release toxins and damage tissue. Includes E. coli, staphylococcus, and pneumococcus
- Viruses: non-living microbe that invades and destroys host cells. Includes influenza, HIV, and the novel coronavirus
- Fungi: releases spores that spread through soil, damp surfaces, and direct contact. Includes ringworm and athlete's foot
- Protists: a diverse group of single-cell organisms. Includes giardia and amoebic dysentery
- Parasites: organisms that live off of and harm their human or animal host. Includes malaria and trichomonas
Now that you know what pathogens are, let's look closer at how they spread.
Modes of Transmission
Diseases spread from one entity to another when conditions are right for a long enough time. These factors agent (the pathogen), environment, and host (the person getting sick) make up what's called the epidemiologic triad. Along with direct contact between two infected people, here are some other ways to transmit diseases.
- Vehicle-borne: a person has direct contact with a contaminated object
- Droplet: the pathogen gets carried by droplets that spread in the air and on surfaces when an infected person breathes, talks, or coughs
- Airborne: the pathogen travels through the air on dust or aerosol droplets and infects others when they breathe it in
- Bloodborne: the pathogen lives in blood and other bodily fluids, transmission occurs when infected fluids come in contact with damaged skin or mucous membranes
- Zoonosis: an animal infected with a non-human pathogen passes it along to a human
- Vector-borne: an arthropod (mosquito, tick, etc.) bites an infected person, picks up the pathogen, and spreads it by biting healthy people
The more you understand these modes of transmission, the easier it is to keep yourself safe from dangerous pathogens.
Protection Against Pathogens
The best way to protect yourself from infection is to disrupt the epidemiologic triad. You can do that by washing your hands, wearing a mask, and getting vaccinations. You should also make sure to use protection during sex, wash all food carefully, wear bug repellent, and avoid sharing personal items. The elderly, very young children, and those with a weak immune system should take extra precautions against illness. To protect more vulnerable people from getting sick, make sure to stay home when you don't feel well.
Understanding This Guide to Pathogens Is an Investment in Your Long-Term Health
Once you have a basic understanding from this guide to pathogens, it's a lot easier to avoid them. Now, it's time to teach others about what you've learned. Are you and your colleagues trained on how to avoid infectious diseases? If you work in an environment where you could be exposed to blood or other potentially infectious materials, you need to be prepared. Visit the HIPAA Exams list of compliance courses to sign up for our IACET-certified CDC and OSHA bloodborne pathogens training today.