Our bodies are pretty amazing. Day after day, they work hard — digesting
food, pumping blood and oxygen, sending signals from our brains and much more.
But there is a group of tiny invaders that can make our bodies sick — they're
Some kids may think that germs are bugs or cooties or other gross stuff. Actually,
germs are tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease. Germs are so small
and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. In fact, germs are
so tiny that you need to use a microscope to see them. When they get in our bodies,
we don't know what hit us until we have symptoms that say we've been attacked!
What Types of Germs Are There?
Germs are found all over the world, in all kinds of places. The four major types
of germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. They can invade plants, animals,
and people, and sometimes they can make us sick.
Bacteria (say: BAK-teer-ee-uh) are tiny, one-celled creatures
that get nutrients from their environments in order to live. In some cases that environment
is a human body. Bacteria can reproduce outside of the body or within the body as
they cause infections. Some infections that bacteria can cause include ear infections,
sore throats (tonsillitis or strep throat), cavities, and pneumonia (say: new-MO-nyuh).
But not all bacteria are bad. Some bacteria are good for our bodies — they
help keep things in balance. Good bacteria live in our intestines and help us use
the nutrients in the food we eat and make waste from what's left over. We couldn't
make the most of a healthy meal without these important helper germs! Some bacteria
are also used by scientists in labs to produce medicines and vaccines
Viruses (say: VY-rus-iz) need to be inside living cells to grow
and reproduce. Most viruses can't survive very long if they're not inside a living
thing like a plant, animal, or person. Whatever a virus lives in is called its host.
When viruses get inside people's bodies, they can spread and make people sick. Viruses
cause chickenpox, measles, flu, and many other diseases. Because some viruses can
live for a short time on something like a doorknob or countertop, be sure to
wash your hands regularly!
Fungi (say: FUN-guy) are multi-celled (made of many cells), plant-like
organisms. Unlike other plants, fungi cannot make their own food from soil, water,
and air. Instead, fungi get their nutrition from plants, people, and animals. They
love to live in damp, warm places, and many fungi are not dangerous in healthy people.
An example of something caused by fungi is athlete's foot, that itchy rash that teens
and adults sometimes get between their toes.
Protozoa (say: pro-toh-ZOH-uh) are one-cell organisms that love
moisture and often spread diseases through water. Some protozoa cause intestinal infections
that lead to diarrhea, nausea, and belly pain.
What Do Germs Do?
Once germs invade our bodies, they snuggle in for a long stay. They gobble up nutrients
and energy, and can produce toxins (say: TOK-sinz), which are proteins that act like
poisons. Those toxins can cause symptoms of common infections, like fevers, sniffles,
rashes, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea.
How do doctors figure out what germs are doing? They take a closer look. By looking
at samples of blood, pee, and other fluids under a microscope or sending these samples
to a laboratory for more tests, doctors can tell which germs are living in your body
and how they are making you sick.
How Can You Protect Yourself From Germs?
Most germs are spread through the air in sneezes, coughs, or even breaths. Germs
can also spread in sweat, saliva, and blood. Some pass from person to person by touching
something that is contaminated, like shaking hands with someone who has a cold and
then touching your own nose.
Steering clear of the things that can spread germs is the best way to protect
yourself. And that means . . .
Remember the words that germs fear — soap and water. Washing your hands
well and often is the best way to beat these tiny warriors. Wash your hands every
time you cough or sneeze, before you eat or prepare foods, after you use the bathroom,
after you touch animals and pets, after you play outside, and after you visit a sick
relative or friend.
There is a right way to wash your hands. Use warm water and soap and rub your hands
together for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing "Happy
Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cover your mouth when you cough to
keep from spreading germs. So if you have to cough, it is best to do it in your elbow
so you are not contaminating your hands.
Using tissues for your sneezes and sniffles is another great weapon against germs.
But don't just throw tissues on the floor to pick up later. Toss them in the trash
and, again, wash your hands!
Another way to fight and prevent infections is to make sure you get all the routine
immunizations from your doctor.
No one likes to get shots but these help keep your immune
system strong and prepared to battle germs. You can also keep your immune system
strong and healthy by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep. All
this will help you to be prepared to fight germs that cause illness.
Now that you know the facts about germs, you may still pick up a cough or a cold
once in a while, but you'll be ready to keep most of those invading germs from moving