Biology - Infection and Disease 11.4
Bacteria, Fungi and Viruses are the three types of micro-organisms that cause disease. They reproduce rapidly because:
- humans are warm (37 degrees C)
- humans are moist
- humans have sugars on the surface of our cells
Pathogens are microorganisms that cause infectious disease. Bacteria and viruses are the main pathogens. It enters the body through gaps in the skin.
Bacteria and Viruses
Bacteria are microscopic single-celled organisms. They come in many shapes and sizes, but even the largest are only 10 micrometres long - 10 millionths of a metre. Bacteria are living cells and, in favourable conditions, can multiply rapidly. Once inside the body, they release poisons or toxins that make us feel ill. Diseases caused by bacteria include:
- food poisoning
- whooping cough
- gonorrhoea - a sexually transmitted disease
Viruses are many times smaller than bacteria. They are among the smallest organisms known and consist of a fragment of genetic material inside a protective protein coat. •Viruses can only reproduce inside host cells, and they damage the cell when they do this. A virus can get inside a cell and, once there, take over and make hundreds of thousands of copies of itself. Eventually the virus copies fill the whole host cell and burst it open. The viruses are then passed out in the bloodstream, the airways, or by other routes. Diseases caused by viruses include:
- influenza - flu
- chicken pox
The body has different ways of protecting itself against pathogens. The first defence is passive immunity. This is aimed at stopping the pathogen getting into the body in the first place. The body’s passive immunity system includes the skin, mucus and cilia in the respiratory system, acid in the stomach, and enzymes in tears. If a pathogen still manages to get into the body, the second defence takes over. This is called active immunity, and the white blood cells have key functions in this.
White blood cells
A white blood cell ingesting disease-causing bacteria.
White blood cells can:
- ingest pathogens and destroy them
- produce antibodies (things which attach themselves to the antigens of the pathogen) to destroy pathogens
- produce antitoxins that neutralise the toxins released by pathogens
also a point that...
- pathogens are not the disease – they cause the disease
- white blood cells do not eat the pathogens – they ingest them
- antibodies and antitoxins are not living things – they are specialised proteins
More about white blood cells
There are several different types of white blood cells, each with different functions, but they can…