What's a Germ? Part 2

Ophelia Gherman, M.D.
September 21, 2016
We've all heard of the word “germ”. But what is a germ? Actually, "germ" is a generic term that refers to micro-organisms that cause diseases. We've found out what a virus is last week. This week, what are bacteria?

Bacteria are microorganisms that come in different shapes and sizes. Some are round, oval, spiral, or rod-shaped. Some are friendly and help their host, while others are aggressive and pathogenic. Bacteria are different then viruses in that bacteria can live in soil, water, and on plants. In fact, bacteria are present in the stratosphere, earth’s crust, and deepest ocean floor. Bacteria, unlike viruses, do not require a living organism to feed off of in order to survive.


Many bacteria are friendly and benefit the environment or their host. For example, the human intestine contains approximately 3 pounds of bacteria. Our skin also hosts 1,000 different bacteria, while our mouth chews on 700 different bacteria. Often, friendly bacteria that live quietly in or on our body are called “Flora” (from the Latin term “life or plant that is naturally growing or native”).


Unlike friendly bacteria, pathogenic bacteria are those that cause illness, infections, and disease. Some bacteria can be both friendly and pathogenic, depending on the strength of one’s immune system.


Here are some well-known illness caused by bacteria: strep throat, ear and sinus infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and staphylococcus and streptococcus infections called impetigo and erysipelas. In the 1800’s many died from pneumonia and erysipelas because of how quickly these infections can enter the bloodstream. In fact, one of Sister Ellen White’s sons succumbed to erysipelas at 3 months of age and another to pneumonia at 16. 


An untreated ear infection can travel to the ear drum where nerves reside, potentially causing a residual hearing deficit. Additionally, pneumonia can saturate one’s lungs, and seep into the blood stream. Once bacteria enter the bloodstream, it travels quickly to other parts of the body. This widespread infection is called “Sepsis.” Sepsis is an emergency and needs immediate treatment.


In 1928, Alexander Fleming accidentally discovered a little fungus that killed bacteria due to a chemical called Penicillin. Since then, the antibiotic has been used to treat many infections of the ears, teeth, and lungs. Unfortunately, antibiotics have been overprescribed and abused, causing multiple side effects and residual healthful detriments. Antibiotics kill all microbes, including the healthy “flora” in the body. Other antibiotics can cause other unpleasant side effects. However, because bacterial infections can quickly become life-threatening the use of antibiotics can be used to suppress them and thus save lives.


Lifestyle changes to implement in order to improve the immune system and thus prevent bacterial infections and the use of antibiotics are the following:


1. Maintain a healthy weight,

2. Exercise regularly,

3. Abstain from smoking,

4. Eliminate sugar and refined foods,

5. Wash hands often before preparing foods, eating, and before and after touching a wound or cut. You especially want to wash your hands after touching dirty areas like the bathroom, garbage can, or animal waste products. A good technique for washing your hands is to lather hands with soap and rub them for 20 seconds or the duration it takes to sing “Happy birthday” from beginning to end two times.


Because these microscopic organisms can cause mayhem in an unhealthy body, our priority needs to be in keeping our immune system healthy and strong enough to keep harmful bacteria at bay. Start today by setting goals for better health!