What Are Bacteria, and Why Are They Dangerous?
As the creators of our world-renowned hand sanitizer, it’s Muse Health’s job to provide the solutions (no pun intended) people need to defend themselves against pathogens of all kinds through simple hand cleaning.
But have you ever stopped to wonder what germs actually are, and why they can have such devastating impacts on our immune systems and physical health? We have. Rest assured there is a good reason you should keep your hands clean, especially when you leave your home and enter public places.
For those who want the not-so-microscopic details, we’ve written a quick rundown of what exactly bacteria are and how they are probably responsible for that nagging cough you can’t seem to get rid of.
What Are Bacteria?
Bacteria (or singular bacterium) are extremely small creatures that are considered simple organisms, meaning they consist of only one cell (for comparison, the human body typically houses about 30 trillion cells). Despite being so small, bacteria often like to group up in big strings or chains. They’re typically found within and without living creatures, food, earth, and water, making them an important factor in many natural ecosystems.
You might also recognize bacteria under their more common nickname, germs.
Bacteria cells are similar in structure to other cells found in living organisms: they have plasmids, ribosomes, cell walls, DNA, and more. A tough cell wall helps to protect bacteria from extreme environments and hazardous conditions, making them particularly sturdy and formidable foes for your body’s immune system to take care of.
The shapes of bacteria consist of three categories: spheres (cocci), spirals (spirilla), and rods (bacilli). The type of bacteria is largely dependent on its shape. Lots of bacteria also contain a flagellum, or a tiny tail that helps them swim around, while others simply cling together to form mobile clusters.
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of bacteria are not harmful to humans, and many actually benefit our health. As a matter of fact, there are probably plenty of bacteria in your digestive tract right now helping digest the last meal you ate. Your gut microbiome is also a great place for good bacteria to reside, eliminating toxins and competing for resources that would otherwise help bad bacteria thrive.
What Do Bad Bacteria Do to Your Body?
Not all bacteria are created equally, unfortunately. While there are plenty of bacterial strains that do no harm to you (and even help you), there are still a good deal of troublemakers waiting to take advantage of your body in order to grow.
Compared to the non-disruptive nature of good bacteria, bad bacteria give off dangerous toxins as they reproduce. These chemicals can damage your surrounding tissues and ultimately cause infections that are dangerous for your health. Realizing something isn’t right, your immune system will then deploy white blood cells to fight the disease. The ensuing battle between bacteria and blood cells brings about the symptoms of fever, cough, and aches we’re all familiar with when we’re sick.
There are many types of bad bacteria that present different problems to our bodies. Some of the most common strains of harmful bacteria include E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus.
- Coli can be mostly found in unclean or uncooked foods and is largely responsible for salmonella. Products of food poisoning such as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are also common symptoms.
Staphylococcus likes to inhabit the surfaces of objects people touch frequently and introduce “staph infections.” The resulting symptoms include pneumonia, skin infections, and sepsis, amongst other ailments.
Streptococcus, as you might guess, brings about the infamous strep throat and is usually found in dirty locations, similar to staphylococcus. Streptococcus is also the primary instigator for scarlet fever and cellulitis.
How Do You Treat Bacterial Infections?
The most reliable treatment for symptoms brought about by bacteria are antibiotics from your local doctor.
Antibiotics are a specific type of medication that eradicates bacteria in your body—both good and bad. They work by releasing chemicals that penetrate bacterial cell walls, prevent protein production within the bacteria itself, or otherwise disrupt the growth of bacteria colonies. This process either kills the strains of bacteria or severely hinders their ability to grow and do further damage.
You can also improve your body’s immune system to better combat bacterial infections on your own. Eating nutritious foods, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of rest can strengthen your natural defenses against infection. Nevertheless, some infections are simply too powerful to fight without medical aid, so never hesitate to visit your doctor is something feels off.
Despite countless infections being defeated by antibiotics, their abilities aren’t perfect. Antibiotics also remove good bacteria in your body. If these healthy helpers aren’t repopulated quickly enough, more room is left for bad bacteria to grow in the future. Likewise, antibiotic resistance—when bacteria evolve to counter the effects of antibiotic treatment—has been a growing concern amongst doctors and medical professionals.
One day we might find a better treatment to replace antibiotics, but for now they do their job very well when used correctly.
On the Importance of Hand Sanitizer
Perhaps the most effective way to ward off harmful bacteria infections is to keep them from starting trouble inside your body in the first place!
Hand washing and hand sanitizing are two of the best methods to protect yourself from dangerous germs. The reasoning is simple: by far, the most common entrances for bacteria to get inside you are through your eyes and your mouth. Our hands tend to touch a lot of dirty things throughout the day, and when we fidget by touching our faces, germs get an all-access pass to dwell inside us.
While hand washing is undoubtedly the best method for cleaning the hands, a sink and good hand soap aren’t always available when you need them. For those situations, it pays to carry some hand sanitizer alongside you to kill enough germs until you can do a proper hand wash.
Frequent sanitizer use can cause irritable skin, however. That’s why Muse Health’s Fragrance-free Hand Sanitizer is made with the best ingredients for effective sanitizing and skin moisturizing at the same time. This combination lets you use the sanitizer more often without suffering from cracked, drying skin. Take a look at our shop and stock up before your next outing!
By better understanding what bacteria are and how they function, you can be more prepared to combat them and secure your health in the future. Watch what you eat and touch, and don’t forget to wash your hands!