Building Blocks Pt. 1

Jun 3, 2016

When it comes to infections, a lot of confusing and overlapping words get thrown around. Germs, bacteria, colonization, antibiotics…The list goes on and on. Since many posts from YFPHP will pertain to infections, I thought it’d be helpful to start by clearing up some of this terminology.

All words defined by YFPHP will be kept in the Glossary section of the website so that you can reference them at any time!

Germs – The word “germ” actually refers to a variety of organisms that are invisible to the naked eye – bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Bacteria and viruses are probably the most popular. Germs get a bad rap, but not all germs are bad. For example, some bacteria are protective (probiotics, anyone?), and some fungi are edible (mmm, mushrooms).

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You may hear germs referred to as bugsmicrobes, or microorganisms. Pathogens are germs that cause disease.

Normal flora – Our bodies are naturally coated with (or “colonized” with) bacteria. This natural coating is what we can the normal bacterial flora. These bacteria can be helpful, harmful, or neutral and are found on our skin and in our mouths, noses, throats, and other mucous-coated areas of the body. When certain bacteria in the normal flora move into a location they are not normally found or grow in number to overpower other protective bacteria, they can cause infectious disease.

Colonization – When germs colonize, it means they are present in or on a particular area of the body. (Germs are attracted to the skin and mucous-coated areas like the mouth, nose, and genital areas.) Humans become colonized with normal flora at birth. When someone is colonized, it does not necessarily mean they are sick yet, but there is a risk that they will develop the infection and become sick or that they may pass the germs to others. In hospitals, patients may be isolated if they are colonized by (or “carry”) a particular bug even if they do not have the full-blown infectious disease because of the risk of spreading this bug to other patients or health care workers.

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Infection – An infection happens when bad germs gain access to areas of the body, especially sterile (germ-free) areas. Examples of body sites that should not contain germs are the brain and the bloodstream. Infections can also happen when a particular pathogen (bad germ) overpowers other protective germs in the area.

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The type of infection determines what type of medication can be used to treat the infectious disease.

Infectious Disease – If you have an infection and that infection damages body tissues, then disease occurs. Symptoms of an infection/infectious disease are usually a result of the body’s immune system trying to clear the bug from its system and/or repair the tissue damage caused by the infection. So even though you may

[Note: The terms infection and infectious disease are often used interchangeably.]

In Building Blocks Pt. 2, we’ll go into more detail about which types of medications treat which types of infections.

Thanks for joining! As always, feel free to leave comments/questions.


Additional Resources:

Learn more about types of microbes (germs) here:

A kid-friendly resource for learning about germs: