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Bacterial Infections: Information on Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Bacterial Growth Bacteria are single-celled organisms that appear as spirals, rods, and balls. Both healthy and unhealthy bacteria are found nearly everywhere in nature including inside humans. Good bacteria help the body digest food, provide vitamins, and destroy disease-causing cells. Alternatively, infectious (bad) bacteria can make humans and animals ill. Because of their ability to reproduce quickly, a simple bacterial infection can grow exponentially within hours.

Some bacteria throw off toxic chemicals that can damage body tissue and create malaise. The most highly susceptible bacterial infections involve E. coli, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. Doctors typically treat bacterial infections using antibiotics. However, failing to take the antibiotic according to directions or taking antibiotic treatments too often can increase the potential risk of the bacterium becoming resistant to the medication.

Who Gets Bacterial Infections?

Even though bacteria can survive in numerous environments in and on humans, and infecting organism must leave its existing host to find another for its survival. The heartiest bacterial infections are caused by a bacterium that is easily transmitted through indirect or direct contact with its host. This can occur as direct contact with the reservoir of bad bacteria through touching bodily fluid that has become infected, sharing food or beverages or through insect or animal bites that are caring the deadly organism. Contact can also occur through inhalation of bacterial particles that are emitted during coughing or sneezing. Other bacterial infections are caused by sexual contact between partners.

Some bacteria can survive away from its host and remain in an infected state for an extended time where humans might indirectly come into contact with the organism left on a doorknob, on furniture, toys, and other personal products used by humans. Consuming contaminated foods is a simple way to develop a bacterial infection. Transmission of infectious material can also happen by fecal-oral contact when contaminated water or sewage water is used or consumed. This type of transmission is a significant problem where poor drainage and sewage systems are part of everyday living in third world countries and poor living environments.

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Types of Bacterium

Classification of bacterium covers a broad spectrum. However, scientists categorize bacterium in four main groups including:

  • Vibrio bacteria appears as a comma shape. This type of bacteria includes tropical disease cholera.

  • Spirochetes bacteria appear as tiny spiral shapes. This type of bacteria covers a range of deadly diseases including syphilis.

  • Cocci bacteria appear as spheres in tight clusters, long lines or in pairs. Cocci bacterium causes sexually transmitted gonorrhea infections.

  • Bacilli bacteria appear as rod shapes. This type of bacteria is responsible for life-threatening diseases including cystitis and typhoid.

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Common Types of Bacterial Infections

Single-celled organisms that invade tissue in the body can cause a life-threatening infection or mild infection that is easily treated with antibiotics. The most common forms of bacterial diseases include:

  • Salmonella and E. coli food poisoning

  • Neisseria meningitides-related meningitis

  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae-related gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease

  • Streptococcal bacterial infections including strep throat, ear infection, meningitis, and pneumonia

  • Staphylococcus aureus infections including infected wounds, toxic shock syndrome, abscesses, cellulitis, food poisoning, pneumonia, and boils.

These pathogenic bacteria organisms are highly dangerous to the body and can cause significant damage by the toxins they emit.

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Bacterial Infection Symptoms

many of the most common symptoms associated. With a bacterial infection can serve as a warning sign that the body is becoming sick. Have diagnosed in time, antibiotics can typically care most humans of a bacterial infection when taken in pill or topical cream form. Common bacterial infection symptoms include:

  • Low-grade fever (101.9 degrees or less)

  • High-grade fever (102 degrees or higher)

  • Upset stomach

  • Digestive problems including diarrhea, bloodier tarry stools, and uncontrollable bowels

  • Swollen lymph nodes on the back of the neck, base of the skull or other areas

  • Headaches that cause annoying pain

  • Difficulty in thinking

  • Disorientation or sudden confusion

  • Skin symptoms including raised shiny rash and blisters

  • Loss of appetite
Bacterial vs. Viral Infections

The treatment for bacterial and viral infections are different, both are caused by microbes and spread by various means including:

  • Sneezing

  • Coughing

  • Direct contact with infected individuals especially through sexual interaction or kissing

  • Direct contact with contaminated surfaces, water, and food

  • Direct contact with infected pets, insects (ticks, lice, etc.), and livestock

The spread of dangerous viruses and bacterial infections by microbes can also cause a variety of other conditions that include:

  • Short-lived (acute) infections

  • Long-lasting (chronic) infections

  • Latent infections where symptoms may not be activated or reactivated for months or years

While bacterial infections are often considered to be less deadly than those caused by viruses, like smallpox, millions of individuals lost their life to the Black Death (bubonic plague) that involve the deadly Yersinia pestis bacteria. Both bacterial and viral infections can display similar symptoms including fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, inflammation, sneezing, fever, coughing and cramping. Usually, the symptoms are the result of the immune system's attempt to throw off infectious organisms from the body.

The most noticeable difference between viral and bacterial infections are structural and the way they respond to treatment drugs. Viruses are highly complex multi-cell creatures with dense walls and membranes that antibiotics cannot penetrate. Alternatively, bacteria are single cell creatures that easily self-reproduce and can survive in challenging environments.

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Diagnosing Bacterial Infections

Diagnosticians will often collect a urine or blood sample to diagnose a bacterial infection. The sample will provide evidence of an infectious disease. However, these cultures might not provide immediate results. The microorganism might need to be stained and examined by a trained technician using a microscope.

The sample might also need to be cultured to provide optimal conditions that encourage microorganism growth. Likely the diagnostician well test the culture for antibiotics to see if the individual's immune system is responding to the microorganism and test for androgens in the microorganism to see if it could trigger the body's immune response. In addition to urine and blood samples, the diagnosticians might take a stool, sputum, or throat/nose swap sample to determine the patient's illness.

No single test has been designed to accurately identify an infectious microorganism. However, once the infections bacterial organism has been identified and verified, the treating physician can prescribe effective medications to rid the body of the dangerous disease. Diagnosing some forms of bacteria is not easy. This is because the bacteria can thrive deep inside the body in the genitourinary tract (in the urinary and genital organs), intestinal tract, or under the skin without causing damage.

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Treating a Bacterial Infection

The most common form of treatment of a bacterial infection involves a prescription of antibiotics. The doctor has different available forms of antibiotics and must prescribe the one designed to treat the specific organism causing the disease. Antibiotics widely used to treat bacterial infections involve:

  • Aminoglycosides

  • Cephalosporin

  • Macrolide

  • Penicillin

  • Quinolone

  • Sulfonamide

  • Tetracycline

  • other antibiotics including nitrofurantoin, vancomycin injections, and clindamycin

Antibiotic medications are not effective at killing off other forms of microorganisms including fungi and viruses. In addition, unnecessary use of antibiotics can cause the development of high resistance to the medication, which is a concerning growing problem worldwide.

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