Introduction to
The World of Microbiology
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MICROBEThe Germ Protection Center is a monthly online column to provide Visiting Nurse clinicians and patients with educational information on microorganisms.

The Germ Protection Center, thanks to generous support from Lysol, will feature a different bug each month that we as healthcare providers should be aware of, along with protection procedures to help prevent cross contamination - a constant concern in healthcare.

Before we introduce our first Bug of the Month, we’d like to introduce you to the microscopic world of germs! We hope you gain helpful lessons and tips from this monthly column.

Microbiology is the science of the invisible world and its effect on other forms of life. In its broadest sense, it is the science that deals with the study of all kinds of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, molds, yeast, fungi, protozoa, algae and prions. The term “microorganism” refers to any of the microscopic forms of life found in nature. There are very few places where some form of microscopic life does not exist. Possibly, even on Mars! Bacteria are found everywhere, in soil, in the air, and in every kind of organism from humans to plants, living or dead. It is sometimes hard to accept their existence, but scientific methods have been developed to demonstrate their presence.

Single cell, free living bacteria are one of the simplest life forms, existing long before human life began. Without bacteria, our world as we know it could not exist, since bacteria perform many varied functions. Decomposition of matter is a basic bacterial activity, returning to nature materials necessary to the revitalization of the earth. A gardener’s compost heap, through bacterial action, becomes rich mulch.

The survival and persistence of different types of bacteria over the ages reflect their ability to live and multiply under a great variety of environmental conditions. Some can survive in a range of temperatures from freezing to almost boiling. Under optimum conditions bacteria can double their number in 15 minutes with or without oxygen. Some can cease growth and go into a kind of hibernation - a virtual state of suspended animation known as a spore. In this state, bacteria can survive cold intense enough to liquefy air (-320° F), and tolerate dry heat of over 200° F. Bacteria also serve very useful purposes to humans, performing a variety of functions from making cheese to aiding in sewage disposal. Some are even used to make antibiotics that kill harmful pathogens. Only a small percentage of bacteria fall into the disease producing class. When bacteria are disease producing, they are often called germs or pathogens.

Bacteria transmit disease in humans by first gaining entrance usually through the nose, eyes, mouth, sweat glands, hair follicles, wounds or through sexual contact. They then adapt to their new environment and multiply to possibly cause infection and illness. Transmission follows when a germ exits one person and infects another through a cough, a sneeze, in feces, other body fluids, and in some cases, through sexual organs. Germs need an effective carrying mechanism to move from place to place via water, dust, food, airborne droplets, insects, dirty towels, and other animate or inanimate objects.

This is just the beginning. In future issues we will expand into the characteristics of bacteria, their size and form and even introduce you to specific disease causing organisms. We trust this information will be helpful to your understanding of the medical world in which you practice and by instituting simple precautions can help benefit the lives of you, your patients, family and friends.

The Germ Protection Center is possible thanks to the generous support of Lysol.

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