Pathogens are infectious micro-organisms, germs, or biological agents that cause infectious diseases or illnesses in the host human. The ability of a pathogen to cause disease is called pathogenicity. The degree to which an organism is pathogenic is called virulence. There are five main types of pathogens: virus, bacterium, fungus, protozoa, and helminth.
The severity of the diseases caused by pathogens is varied. Some infections are mild whereas others could be life-threatening. For example, a common cold is a mild viral infection compared with the lethal Ebola virus disease or coronavirus. Coronavirus, Anthrax, Human immunodeficiency virus infection or HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, and Zika virus are examples of some pathogens that cause serious diseases.
Types of pathogens
They are microscopic infectious agents that are smaller than bacteria. Viruses are made up of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) or ribonucleic acid (RNA) protected by a coating of protein. Once a virus invades the host cells, it uses the host cell to replicate, producing many new viruses that infect more host cells. This process usually damages or destroys the infected cells.
Pathogenic viruses and the diseases they cause:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV and AIDS).
- Influenza virus: Flu, viral pneumonia.
- Norovirus: Stomach flu.
- Ebolavirus: Ebola.
- Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV): Chickenpox.
- Zika virus: Zika virus disease, microcephaly in infants.
Bacteria are single-celled, microscopic pathogens having different shapes, such as rods, spirals, or spheres. Bacteria are usually larger than viruses and have a nucleus containing DNA.
They can live in any environment and reproduce rapidly after entering the host body. They release toxins that damage the tissues causing illness. Some bacteria are not pathogenic and support essential body functions.
Pathogenic bacteria and the diseases they cause:
- Mycobacterium tuberculosis: Tuberculosis.
- Escherichia coli: Bloody diarrhea.
- Vibrio cholerae: Cholera.
- Clostridium botulinum: Botulism poisoning, paralysis.
- Streptococcus pneumoniae: Pneumonia, meningitis.
- Staphylococcus aureus: Skin infection.
Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections.
Fungi are single or multi-celled organisms that can survive outside a host. Their cell contains a nucleus with cellular components enclosed within a thick cell wall.
Pathogenic fungi and the diseases they cause:
- Candida albicans: Oral thrush, vaginal yeast infection.
- Trichophyton species: Skin, hair, and nail diseases.
- Aspergillus species: Bronchial asthma, Aspergillosis.
- Epidermophyton species: Athlete's foot, sock itch, ringworm.
- Histoplasma capsulatum: Histoplasmosis, lung disease.
Protozoa are single-celled organisms that can move through water and prey on other microorganisms.
When they enter the human host, they feed off parasitically and multiply in their host causing infections and illnesses.
Pathogenic protozoa and the diseases they cause:
- Plasmodium species: Malaria
- Giardia lamblia: Giardiasis (diarrheal disease).
- Entamoeba histolytica: Amoebic dysentery, an amoebic liver abscess.
- Trypanosoma brucei: African sleeping sickness.
- Trichomonas vaginalis: Trichomoniasis (STI).
- Toxoplasma gondii: Toxoplasmosis, bipolar disorder, depression.
Helminths are larger, multi-celled organisms that are also called parasitic worms. These worms inhabit many areas of the body and get food from that host often causing illness in the process. Some worms include:
- Roundworms: These worms live in the gastrointestinal tract and lymphatic system.
- Flatworms: Include tapeworms, which reside in the intestines.
- Thorny-head worms: Lives in the intestines.
Pathogenic helminths and the diseases they cause:
- Ascaris lumbricoides (roundworm): Ascariasis.
- Strongyloides stercoralis (threadworm): Strongyloidiasis.
- Echinococcus species: Cystic echinococcosis, alveolar echinococcosis.
- Taenia solium (tapeworm): Gastrointestinal complications, cysticercosis.
- Trichinella spiralis (trichina worm): Trichinosis.
- Schistosoma mansoni (flukeworm): Schistosomiasis.