Pathogens Chapter Two – Bacteria

You ever get that feeling when you are at work and suddenly, your stomach decides that it doesn’t want anything to do with you anymore. A day later, you are at home leaking from every pore or orifice thinking about how you must have greatly angered some sort of deity. Viruses can mess you up quite a bit, but so can bacteria.

For this second chapter of the “Pathogens” series, we’ll focus on the bacterial side of microbes.

BTW, if you haven’t yet, you can read our first chapter on viruses here.

Now, let’s get on to chapter 2.

They might or might not help you


Wikipedia doesn’t really give us a definition of bacteria (although it has a rather large introductory paragraph), so I went and googled it and came up with this from vocabulary.comBacteria are microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere. They can be dangerous, such as when they cause infection, or beneficial, as in the process of fermentation (such as in wine) and that of decomposition.

So that’s pretty vague. But that’s because bacteria encompass a huge part of life on earth. The main thing about bacteria is that they do not have a nucleus like our own cells. They are simpler, and older, organisms than we are, but they are more complex than viruses.

Usually, the first thing you’ll learn in microbiology is that bacteria can be roughly divided into two types: gram-positive and gram-negative. This is based on the morphology of their cell wall which will let them incorporate a special kind of ink.

Small rods...

Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria (Gram Negative) under a microscope. “Pseudomonas aeruginosa Gram” by Y_tambe – Y_tambe’s file.

"Gram Stain Anthrax". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

Bacillus antracis (Gram Positive rods) and white blood cells. “Gram Stain Anthrax“.

 Popular Bacteria

Alright, so these are the superstars in the bacteria world. Now, as I said before, not all bacteria will mess up your day. That means that we can separate them into two teams: Team Plus and Team Minus. Team Plus are things that help you be healthier, or happier. Team Minus has bacteria that go from a mild annoyance to “will &(#@ your @#&*( up”.

Team Plus


Lactobacilli are a group of bacteria that change boring milk into awesome yoghurt or cheese. Since we are talking about a whole genus, there is quite a bit of variety in them, but, they have a few characteristics in common. They are all gram positive rod shaped cells and are, for the most case, beneficial to humans.


This is what Lactobacillus cells look like (the purple rods). “Lactobacillus sp 01” by Photo Credit: Janice CarrContent Providers(s): CDC/Dr. Mike Miller

Cool things that we can thank them for
  • Food stuff such as yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, pickles, beer, wine, cider, kimch, cocoa and kefir
  • Part of the human gut flora, which means that they help with digestion while protecting you from undesirables from Team Minus.


Streptococcus thermophilus

Streptococci are bacterias that look like chains of little balls. Famous ones include S.pneumoniae and S.pyogenes which cause, respectively, pneumonia and strep throat. They can be very nasty. However, S.thermophilus decided, a couple thousand years ago, to come and play for the other team.

purple dots

Look at the purple dots! “20101210 020132 StreptococcusThermophilus” by Bob BlaylockOwn work.

Like Lactobacillus, they can help with cheese production but I found one cool things about S.thermophilus. They might be able to help with the inflammation of the small intestine that happens when you get chemotherapy.

Cool things that we can thank them for
  • Low fat cheese and yogurt
  • Lowers small intestine inflammation during chemotherapy (still at the research stage)
  • Stabilizing growth rate in children
  • Reducing antibiotic-associated diarrhea



Streptomyces bacteria are gram-positive, filamentous looking creatures. And, well, they help us a LOT. They (among others, but still) are responsible for the dramatic increase in life expectancy of the 20th century.


Filmentous looking Streptomyces. “Streptomyces sp 01″.”Streptomyces sp 01“.

Streptomyces produce quite a few substances that help kill those bugs from Team Minus. Actually, no, not just bacteria. They also create drugs that can counteract fungi and parasites.

Cool things that we can thank them for
  • Antibacterial substances such as chloramphenicol, streptomycin and tetracycline
  • Antifungal substances such as nystatin
  • Antiparatistic substances such as ivermectin


 Team Minus

Escherichia coli

Most of you have probably heard of E.coli. There has been quite a few outbreaks over the year of E.coli poisoning which can go from annoying to very nasty. So, what do they look like? well, they look like rods, but unlike Lactobacilli, they are gram negative.

Do you like them rods?

Electron microscopy of E.coli. “EscherichiaColi NIAID” by Credit: Rocky Mountain Laboratories, NIAID, NIH – NIAID

Not all E.coli will mess up your day. Hell, you most likely have some in your gut right now. But, there are certain strains that are deadly. It all depends on the toxins that they carry. For these, you can get diseases ranging from gastroenteritis to septicemia. E.coli O157:H7‘s shiga toxin is deadly, fast and is actually classified as a bioterrorism agent.

Modes of transmission
  • E.coli poisoning usually results from contaminated food or water. It can get to there through improper hand washing, soil contamination, etc.


Salmonella enterica

This is another famous one: One of the serovars called “Typhi” was responsible for the typhoid fever outbreak in the early 1900s United States. Yea, that’s what Typhoid Mary had. Those are also rod shaped like E.coli.

Salmonella colonies

These are not microscopic pictures. These are actually colonies of Salmonella growing on a nutrient medium. They are visible to the naked eye. “Salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium 01” by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One thing of note with the Typhoid Mary story is that she didn’t have any symptoms of typhoid fever. The reason why it was so interesting to scientists at the time was that she was the first recorded case of an asymptomatic carrier. She could infect other people with the pathogen but she was not otherwise affected by it. Salmonella poisoning (salmonellosis) sucks. You basically leak food and fluids in every way possible until you get better or die.

Typhoid fever is much more nasty and includes very high, well, fevers. It can result to death in about a quarter of untreated people.

Modes of transmission
  • Yea, you guessed it! Contaminated food and water. Salmonella contamination is rigorously tested in our modern food industry so you shouldn’t run across it too much in normal consumption.


Campylobacter jejuni

Another gastroenteritis-causing bug. This one is shaped like a corkscrew to better screw you over! ha! (sorry, I had to).

screw... screw... screw

This is just like what you used to open the wine that you drank with your contaminated meat. “Campylobacter jejuni 5778 lores” by

There are a few species of campylobacter that cause disease, and a lot more that don’t but C.jejuni is, well, very annoying in our fast-paced societies. The gastroenteritis they cause can put you on ice for a while, while making you contagious to make sure that your team is also down.

Modes of transmission
  • Now, repeat after me: contaminated food and water!
  • Also, touching or licking contaminated surfaces can lead to infection

Impact on Productivity

What I talked about in chapter one applies here. The “mild” bacterial pathogens can mess you up for a while. If you insist on going to work, you can also mess up other members of your team.

One thing to add, is that there is a genuine fear of bacteria in the public. Depending on your business, it might be important for you to help people understand what your business does to fight them. For example, this Listeria outbreak in Canada cost quite a bit for the company in terms of lawsuits and loss of sales. So if you have these businesses, or are evaluating them as an investment, here is what you should look out for:

  • Food and pharmaceutical industry: This industry is heavily regulated to control for bacteria. Know however, that those controls have a statistical limit. Finding no bacteria in your tests DO NOT mean that you don’t have bacteria in your product. The only way to insure that is through process control and design. Good manufacturing plants should have process simulations, detailed sterilization/pasteurization procedures and a strong quality department. They should also have microbiologists on staff and a microbiological training program for all employees. You’ll also find that those plants rigorously test and challenge their microbial monitoring methods.
  • Medical industry: Medical facilities have the added difficulty that, unlike pharmaceutical manufacturers, diseases actually walk/drive/fly towards them. The focus on decontamination and sterilization must be absolute. While disposable tools are expensive, you need to evaluate that against the cost of having people deserting your facility because they feel they’ll get even sicker.
  • Day care center: These establishment go from fairly regulated to not regulated at all. At a minimum, you should look to have regular decontamination and cleaning procedures. Kids are great vectors for disease. They eat everything and touch everything. Your daycare should aim to have all that “everything” pathogen-free.
  • Regular office: Just because you don’t have a regulation doesn’t mean that no cleaning is necessary. Regular cleaning and disinfection schedules are important. If an outbreak is signaled in your facility, you can be sure customers won’t be lining up for a while.

Protect Yourself

So, personally, what can you do to protect yourself and your team? How can you stay on top of the game while your competitors are locked in the toilet? Well, again, to avoid contamination, you can use the viral tricks:

  • Wash/disinfect your hands often
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Ask your employees to go home if they are sick
  • Ask your cleaning team to make sure to wipe and disinfect areas that see a lot of different human contact

If you do get sick, there are actually more weapons against bacteria than viruses.

  • First thing to do is still to stay HOME. Even under treatment you will be contagious.
  • Talk to your doctor. They will determine if you need antibiotics or not. That’s right, now antibiotics are in play and can help you get better. BUT, and this is important, follow the doctors instruction. If they say “No Rasmus, you don’t need antibiotics”, it means just that. If they say “Liza, take your antibiotic once for 30 days”, do not stop after 25 because you feel fine. The reason for this is that wrongly administered antibiotics will end up creating super bacteria and, well, you don’t want to be the harbinger of doom for the human race.

 Action Items

  1. Follow the actions from the virus chapter.
  2. Educate your employees on the dangers of pathogens
  3. Make sure that you and your team members know about antibiotics and their limitations.

 Further Resources – Want to learn more about the topic?

Here are a few articles that discuss the same subject.

Here is the link to the previous chapter.

  • Pathogens Chapter One – Virus

Alright, so, what do you think of bacteria now? Next month, we’ll talk about molds, yea those annoying things that grown on your bread after a while.

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