Viruses & Bacteria: What They Are & How To Stop The Bad Ones

A person wearing a blue mask and holding their dog wearing a blue mask

Written by: Sarah Haley

Although they cannot be seen with the naked eye, bacteria and viruses are everywhere. They have caused disease and illness, but they have also allowed scientists to complete the ground-breaking research that has saved many lives.

Bacteria and viruses are distinctive, but they both have the capability to cause detrimental effects for human health. 

Here we will discuss what bacteria and viruses are, and how to prevent getting sick with the bad ones.

What Are Bacteria?


By scientific definition, bacteria are single-celled microscopic organisms (microbes) that lack organelles and a nucleus.

In simpler terms, bacteria are the germs that make us sick, but also the little helpers that live inside and outside the human body to keep us healthy. They are the source of antibiotics that help fight human infection and illness, and also the source of probiotics that keep your gut healthy. 

The human body cannot survive without bacteria. As a matter of fact, the human microbiome is your body's unique microbial community that keeps everything running smoothly. It’s like a massive team with trillions of microorganisms on it that all work together to keep your body working optimally.1

Although there’s tons of good bacteria in your body that keep you healthy and safe, there’s also tons of bad bacteria that can cause you to get severely sick if they get inside. These bad bacteria can come from friends you shake hands with, or from the raw meat you use to prepare dinner. 

There is an extremely large number of diverse bacteria that can be considered “bad”. In the USA, the major pathogenic foodborne bacteria are Salmonella typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, and E. coli O157:H7.2 It’s estimated that disease caused by pathogenic bacteria has cost the United States approximately 77 billion dollars per year.3 

Infection with one of these “bad” bacteria doesn’t always result in death, but it can knock you off your feet for a couple of weeks. Some of the symptoms associated with gastrointestinal pathogens like salmonella and E. coli are stomach cramps, fever, diarrhea (that may be bloody), vomiting, and extreme nausea.4/5

Proper prevention strategies should be implemented in both your working environment and home to avoid infection and prevent any possible microbial spread. 

What are Viruses?


Viruses like bacteria can cause diseases that are fatal to humans. By scientific definition, viruses are submicroscopic obligate intracellular parasites that replicate solely inside the living cells of an organism.

In simpler terms, viruses are extremely tiny pathogens (things that cause disease) that require their host (the thing they are infecting) to survive.

They can infect all life forms including plants, animals, archaea, and bacteria. Viruses are also considered to be the most abundant biological entity on earth.6 

There are a variety of human diseases that are the result of viral infection. The COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic was caused by a virus named SARS-CoV-2, and both the common cold and seasonal flu are also caused by viruses. 

The seasonal flu epidemics that occur each year are a result of influenza A and influenza B viruses. The influenza A viruses are special because there are different subtypes depending on which one of the NA (neuraminidase) and HA (hemagglutinin) proteins are present on its surface.

In total, there are 11 known NA subtypes and 18 known HA subtypes. There are a variety of different combinations of NA and HA possible that make the various flu strains. 

For example, an influenza A “H1N1” virus has an HA 1 protein and a NA 1 protein. 

Likewise, a “H5N7” virus has an HA 5 protein and a NA 7 protein.  

Let’s use hats for comparison since they sit on the surface of our heads like the NA and HA proteins sit on the surface of the virus. Basically, this means that influenza A viruses have a total of 11 red hats (representing NA) and a total of 18 blue hats (representing HA) that they can wear. Depending on the strain that year, it will be wearing one red hat (NA) and one blue hat (HA). 

Flu vaccines are then created against the strain that’s predicted to be the most common through research.7

Throughout history viruses have been the cause of many epidemics and pandemics. However, they have also been manipulated in labs to create the vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) we use today. They have also been a fundamental component in a variety of research techniques that have allowed for the discovery of multiple scientific breakthroughs. 

Although viruses can be utilized for good, it’s still essential to maintain proper cleaning so that viruses are less likely to transmit to new hosts and cause disease.  

Easy Prevention Tips & Tricks

1. Eat a balanced diet

A balanced diet is important to maintain a healthy and strong immune system. Eating a balanced diet provides your body with all the macronutrients and micronutrients it needs to function. 

Macronutrients are the things your body needs in larger amounts. The three types are: carbohydrates, proteins, and fat. You can get these macros from eating whole foods such as rice, chicken or tofu, and olive oil. 

Micronutrients are the things your body needs in smaller or “micro” amounts. These are the vitamins and minerals that help play a big role in your body’s metabolic activities. Since the body cannot create vitamins and minerals on its own, it’s important to consume fruits, vegetables or supplements to maintain a balanced diet.8 

2. Sanitize and clean regularly

Not only do public places need to be regularly cleaned to avoid health problems, but also family homes. Kitchens should be sanitized after meal preparations to avoid any cross contamination and bacterial growth. Additionally, proper storage of meats and various foods should be optimized to avoid any microbial progression. 

The Centres for Disease Controls guide for COVID-19 unvaccinated people recommends that any high touch surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected daily. Examples of these surfaces include handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, sinks, and doorknobs. 

In addition to cleaning household surfaces regularly, good hand hygiene should be maintained. If you have access to a sink with soap, it’s recommended you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds after visiting a public place. 

If a sink with soap is not available, a good alternative is using hand sanitizer. In order to properly prevent microbial and viral spread, a sand sanitizer that contains at least 60% ethanol should be used.9 

3. Monitor yourself

In order to prevent further transmission of disease, it’s extremely important to monitor your body.

When you feel sick or extra lethargic, try to limit the people you see. This may mean taking a day off work, working remotely, skipping a workout, or saving the grocery shopping for another day. 

Individuals with certain health conditions, young children, and older people are at higher risk of serious flu complications.10 In order to protect others and limit transmission, it’s vital that everyone does their part.

4. Start Exercising

The benefits associated with a regular exercise routine are endless. 

Some of the benefits include:

  • Weight management (maintaining weight or losing weight) 
  • Strengthened bones and muscles
  • Improved cognitive performance
  • Reduced health risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and some cancers11

The benefits that are linked to physical activity help improve overall quality of life. An article published in the journal Immunology and Allergy Clinics of North America highlights the anti-inflammatory effect of exercise. The impact that regular exercise has on the circulation of white blood cells (WBC’s) helps the body fight diseases such as the flu and common cold. 

The Takeaway

Bacteria and viruses aren’t going away anytime soon. 

It’s important to maintain a healthy microbiome and make sure your body is getting the good bacteria it needs. 

However, in order to keep your body working the best it can, it’s also important to continue practicing prevention strategies in order to avoid any viral or bacterial derived diseases. 


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