Bacteria are living things that have only one cell. Under a microscope, they look like balls, rods, or spirals. They are so small that a line of 1,000 could fit across a pencil eraser.
Most bacteria won't hurt you - less than 1% of the different types make people sick. In fact, many bacteria actually keep us healthy. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.
However, infectious bacteria can make you ill. They reproduce quickly in your body. Many give off chemicals called "toxins", which can damage tissue and make you sick. The names of some bacteria that cause infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli.
Antibiotics are the usual treatment for bacterial infections. When you take antibiotics, follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist them.
Keep in mind that antibiotics only treat bacterial infections. Viral illnesses cannot be treated with antibiotics. When an antibiotic is not prescribed, ask your healthcare professional for tips on how to relieve symptoms and feel better.
Common Diseases Caused by Bacteria
Bacterial diseases continue to present a major threat to human health. Tuberculosis, for instance, ranks among the world's leading causes of death.
Streptococcus (Group B Streptococcus), another type of bacteria, continues to be a frequent cause of life-threatening infection during the first two months of life.
Foodborne and waterborne bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella and Campylobacter are responsible for diarrheal disease.
Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Last update Feb 12, 2017