pathogens, health

What Are Pathogens and Why Should Know About Them?


Pathogens live in every environment on earth. In fact, one liter of seawater has ten billion bacteria and 100 billion viruses.
Did you know that researchers from Indiana University report that one trillion microbial species live in the world? Scientists haven’t identified most of these.

Lucky for you, the majority of bacteria and viruses you’re exposed to every day are not dangerous. Some are even beneficial. But, what are pathogens?

It’s important to understand which pathogens can cause diseases, so you can protect you and your family from contagion. Read more to learn about infectious pathogens that could harm your health.

What Are Pathogens?

Pathogens are infectious, single-celled organisms that cause disease and illness in their hosts. Their hosts can be any other living organism, such as people and animals.

Your body’s immune system has natural defenses against some of the common pathogens. But, your body can’t fight off some of the more virulent pathogens. In this case, they can cause severe illness and even death.

The two categories of pathogens include:

  • Facultative Pathogens – These organisms are environmental bacteria and fungi. An example of facultative pathogens is bacterial pathogens spread in a hospital environment.
  • Obligate Pathogens – These pathogens need a host to live. All viruses are obligate because they depend on the cells of their hosts to reproduce. Examples of obligate pathogens are tuberculosis, syphilis, as well as protozoans, which cause malaria.

Out of these two pathogen categories are five types of pathogens.

What Are the Five Types of Pathogens?

Five types of pathogenic organisms can make you sick. These organisms include:


These pathogens make you sick by killing cells and disrupting their functions. Your body fights back with antibodies and fever. The heat from a fever can cause viruses to become inactive.


These are the most widespread pathogens. Some are harmless and others are deadly. Bacteria live everywhere. It’s in the air you breathe, the ground you walk on, the water you drink, and the food you eat. They multiply quickly and disrupt your cells.


You can breathe in these pathogens, which cause flu-like symptoms, coughing and even organ failure. An example of this fungus is Histoplasma capsulatum, which causes histoplasmosis. It lives in soil where birds and bats defecate.


Protozoa pathogens cause malaria. The pathogen lives in the saliva of mosquitoes. When a mosquito bites you do ingest blood, it leaves the pathogen behind. The pathogen invades your liver and multiplies.


Parasitic worms usually enter your body in cysts living in raw or undercooked meat. The pepsin and hydrochloric acid in your body release the larvae, which then travel into your intestines. They reproduce and eventually enter your bloodstream.

Many times, you’ll see protozoa and worms grouped as one type of pathogen known as parasites. The science of studying these pathogens is called parasitology.

What Are the Most Contagious Pathogen Diseases?

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), over 40 types of pathogens cause illness. But, six of them have the most severe symptoms and are very contagious.

E. coli

You can contract E. coli by eating raw vegetables, fruits, undercooked meats and unpasteurized dairy foods. Touching feces or an infected person can also infect you with E. coli.

It presents with severe symptoms, such as vomiting, bloody diarrhea and stomach pain.

Hepatitis A

This pathogen infects you when you eat contaminated food or water. It can also spread from through feces and other infected people.

Symptoms of Hepatitis A include fever, jaundice, diarrhea, weakness and discomfort.

Nontyphoidal Salmonella

This usually spreads when you eat contaminated eggs, poultry, meat or milk. Raw vegetables can also spread the disease if they came into contact with animal feces.

This pathogen causes mild symptoms, such as fever, diarrhea, and some vomiting.


This is very contagious. You can catch it from an infected person, touching any contaminated surface or eating infected food or water.

Symptoms of this pathogen include nausea, stomach pain, fever, muscle aches, weakness and discomfort.


This pathogen usually infects children. It’s passed from one person to another through feces or orally. Symptoms of this illness include fever, cramps, and bloody diarrhea.

Salmonella Typhi

You can contract this pathogen through the fecal-oral route from another person. It’s also passed on by drinking contaminated water.

This pathogenic can cause an enlarged spleen, fever, headache, diarrhea or constipation.

You can keep yourself from most of these infections by washing your hands often. Also, thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables and cook meat to the correct temperature.

Also, you can get a vaccination to prevent Hepatitis A.

How to Prevent Pathogen Infections

Preventing severe illness from pathogens is more effective with today’s medical advancements. With vaccines, fungicides and antibiotics, along with your immune system, you can prevent or stop most pathogens from spreading.

To protect you and your family from contracting or spreading infectious diseases, follow these tips:

  • Immunize against diseases
  • Wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Ventilate your home
  • Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Clean surfaces in your home regularly, especially tables, door handles, light switches and toys
  • Use safe food preparation methods
  • Practice safe sex

Following these tips can help keep you healthy, as well as the people around you. Studying for your BBP Certification can also help you keep your family, co-workers, and people you meet each day safe from infectious pathogens.

Now You Know What Pathogens Can Do

Now, you know the answer to “What are pathogens?” You can recognize the symptoms and know how to prevent infections.

Pathogens need you to live their lifecycles but you need them too. They strengthen your immune system so it can tell the difference between good and bad invaders. The good pathogens help you digest your food and absorb the nutrients you need.

As long as you’re aware of the infectious pathogens lurking around you and follow preventative tips, you can stay safe and healthy.

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