What are Germs?

Published: 13/12/2009

   > Health & Safety



Germs are very small organisms that we cannot see with the naked eye. In order to see them we need a very powerful microscope.

What kinds of germs are there?

Germs that make us sick are called pathogens. There are three types of pathogens, bacteria, viruses, and sometimes fungi.

Bacteria-tiny germs that are a made up of only one cell. That is really small! We are made up of millions of cells. Bacteria come in three distinct shapes: rod shaped (look like sticks), cone shaped (look like balls), or spiral shaped.

Viruses-also one celled germs, but are much smaller than bacteria. You can't see them with a normal microscope, you need an electron microscope to see them. Viruses have many different shapes like bacteria.

Fungi-plant-like organisms that can be unicellular or multicellular. Examples of fungi include: mushrooms, mold, and yeasts. There are many types of fungi which do not affect our health and our good for us. There are some types, though, that can be harmful to us.

Do germs always make us sick?

No. Our body has special defenses to prevent pathogens from making us sick. These defenses are: our skin, nose, mouth, throat, and special cells in our body.

Skin - provides a natural barrier to prevent germs from entering our body. The only time our skin doesn't protect us from us from germs is when we have cuts. When we have cuts in our skin, it is possible for germs to enter our bodies. That is why it is important for us to clean out our cuts or abrasions when they occur.

Nose - helps fight germs because it is lined with tiny hairs. When we breathe in the germs get caught in the hairs and when we breath out germs are forced out.

Mouth - and throat also help fight germs. They are wet and sticky. Germs get stuck in our throat and mouth and don't go any further.

Fighting Cells - There are two types of fighting cells that are in our blood stream. These are our white blood cells and antibodies. If a pathogen passes through our skin, nose, or throat and mouth and gets into our blood stream these cells attack.

What can we do to help our body fight germs?

1. We can get plenty of sleep.

By getting the proper amount of sleep, we give our fighting cells a chance to get energized. If we don't get enough sleep, our fighting cells get tired and won't be able attack germs as well as if we had enough sleep.

2. We can dress appropriately for certain weather conditions.

When it is cold we need to wear warm clothing, and when it is warm we need to wear loose clothing. It is also important that we protect our skin from the sun by putting sun screen on. It is also important to keep our houses and classrooms at the appropriate temperature.

3. The most important thing we can do is wash our hands.

Why do we need to wash our hands?

Hand washing is important because it reduces the spread of germs from one person to the next. By washing our hands, we prevent germs from getting into our bodies as well as passing them onto other people.

Because germs are everywhere it is important that we wash our hands so we don't ingest them when we eat or pass them on to someone else.
When is it important to wash our hands?

Wash our hands before we do the following things:

prepare or eat food
treat a cut or wound
tend to someone who is sick

We need to wash our hands after we:
go to the bathroom
handle uncooked food (particularly raw meat, poultry or fish)
change a diaper
blow your nose
cough or sneeze
play with or touch a pet
handle garbage
tend to someone who is sick

What is the correct way to wash our hands?

Use warm or hot running water
Use soap (preferably antibiotic)
Wash all surfaces thoroughly, including wrists, palms, back of hands, fingers and under fingernails (if possible with a nail brush)
Rub hands together for at least 10 to 15 seconds
When drying, begin with your forearms and work toward your hands and finger tips, and pat your skin rather then rubbing to avoid chapping and cracking
Apply hand lotion after washing to help prevent and soothe dry skin

How do we prevent the spread of germs to other people?
Hand washing at least 15 seconds
Covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze
Wash our dishes before we use them again
Keep food that needs to be cold in the fridge
Cook foods, especially meats, thoroughly

What is the difference between communicable and non-communicable diseases?

Communicable diseases are diseases that are able to be passed on from one person to the next. For example: the common cold, chicken pox, and the flu.

Non communicable diseases are those that cannot be passed from one person to the next, they are not contagious. For example: heart disease, epilepsy, diabetes, and asthma.