The world is full of infinite mystery. Now, people have many different ways of trying to explain why things happen or how things work. And, over the centuries, scientists, doctors, and researchers have demystified so many unanswered questions.
But it turns out, one of the biggest riddles of life happens to be our bodies. Researchers in the medical community are always asking how the human body works, why the body deteriorates over time, and if there are ways to prolong and strengthen life.
However, in order to answer the most difficult questions, scientists often start with the most simple investigations. For instance …
WHAT CAUSES DISEASE?
It’s a pretty broad question, I know. But believe it or not, the answer stems from a pretty simple scientific explanation. Are you ready for the answer? Here it is –
Disease is often caused by one thing – a pathogen.
A pathogen is anything … literally anything – a virus, any organism, a bacterium, fungi, worm, or microorganism – that can make people sick. It’s anything that can produce a disease.1
And the thing is, it’s easy to give pathogens a bad rap. It’s easy to think of them as meddling and aggressive invaders that wreak havoc on your body. But, a pathogen’s really just trying to do what we’re all trying to do – live and grow. Pathogens just happen to be parasitic. That means they feed off of other living organisms.2
Turns out, living as a parasite is kind of a great plan. Think about it – if you were a parasite, you’d just have to attach yourself to a living creature, like a human being. Then, once you’re in, you’ve got a warm, safe place to stay. You’ve got a source of never-ending nutrients. And, you can multiply at a rapid rate in an environment with a pretty stable temperature – so there are minimal surprises to threaten your existence.3
In fact, many pathogens have adapted so successfully, they’ve developed survival skills and defenses even the powerful human immune system can have trouble stomping out.
BUT, WHAT MAKES A PATHOGEN INFECTIOUS?
Well, for starters, your body actually happens to be an ecosystem. This means it’s home to a population of living organisms. And those organisms interact with your body, because it’s the environment responsible for sustaining them.
In fact, there are actually more bacterial and fungal cells living in the body than there are human cells within the body.4
Now, usually these bacteria and fungi dwell in places like the skin, mouth, intestines, and vagina. And, though your body is often infected with viruses brought about by these microbes, most of the time, they don’t present any noticeable symptoms.
But, pathogens are unique – they’re strong little organisms. Often, they can establish special ways to cross over your body’s defensive barriers – like the intestinal wall and other natural protectants within the body. Because they’re so resilient, they find ways to enter areas they shouldn’t.
Turns out, a pathogen needs to be able to do several things in order to live and grow. It must be able to –
- Migrate to and set up camp inside a host
- Find a specific section of the body within which it can feed itself
- Fend off the host’s immune system’s defenses
- Multiply using only itself and the resources the host provides
- Escape the host and migrate to another host5
WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS CAUSED BY PATHOGENS?
Well, that’s kind of a trick question. You see, one of the most common misconceptions about “symptoms” is they’re caused by the source of a disease – for instance, the pathogen itself. But, often, a symptom is an expression of your immune system. So, it’s not the pathogen causing the symptom, it’s your body reacting to the pathogen.
For instance, you when you see red splotches or swelling, it’s actually your immune system letting you know it’s fighting to save your body from a site of infection. These are the signs your body is doing what it’s supposed to ,which is fighting against some invading pathogen. Fever can also be a symptom brought about by your body defending itself against a pathogen.
The thing to remember is each different kind of pathogen can cause health issues in different ways.6 It’s part of the reason different types of symptoms and illnesses emerge.
Now, you can do a few things to prevent pathogens from making you sick. But first, it helps to know what’s out there. Below you’ll find just a sample of some of the most common foodborne pathogens.
5 FOODBORNE PATHOGENS
- Pathogenic Escherichia coli (E. coli) – This cluster of bacteria can introduce your body to some serious toxins. Undercooked meat, raw milk, and even contaminated water can carry this bacteria. Some of the symptoms that your body’s dealing with E. coli might be cramping, diarrhea, or queasiness.
- Salmonella – In certain cases, salmonella can be immune to specific antibiotic treatments. Salmonella can be carried by raw meat, seafood, and poultry. Symptoms that might alert you to a salmonella infection could be diarrhea, headaches, queasiness, and fever.
- Campylobacter jejuni – This bacteria happens to be the most frequent cause of diarrhea in the United States. It can come from raw milk, untreated water, undercooked meat, shellfish, or fowl. Other than diarrhea, campylobacter jejuni can cause cramps, fever, and headaches. It can also make you feel nauseous.
- Clostridium botulinum – This pathogen is often found in foods you prep, seal, or even can at home. Be careful with your meat products and seafood. Symptoms may include vomiting, blurry vision, and dry mouth.
- Clostridium perfringens – You may come into contact with this bacteria if you leave certain foods undercooked, or if you leave them out on the counter for too long. So, it’s important to refrigerate your meats. Symptoms can include nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.7
4 WAYS TO PREVENT FOODBORNE HEALTH ISSUES
Now, it may seem daunting to know that all of these pathogens are out there. But remember, people have survived since the beginning of time and evolved to fight against these (and many other kinds of) threats.
To make sure you do your best to avoid these and other pathogens, you can follow these four easy steps:
1. Sterilize – This means everything: cutting boards, silverware, cooking surfaces, and even food. Keeping a clean kitchen can really help prevent pathogens from kickstarting foodborne health issues.
It’s also really important to wash your hands. Also, thoroughly wash all your produce.
2. Keep Foods in Separate Containers – This is important in terms of preventing cross-contamination among your favorite foods. Keep raw meat, seafood, eggs, and poultry in your refrigerator. Always put your raw food in sealed containers or plastic baggies. Consider using different cutting boards for raw meats and produce.
3. Properly Cook Your Food – Make sure you use the right about of heat and cook for the right amount of time, because it’s the best way to get rid of troublesome bacteria. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature of your food.
And, if certain foods are left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, chuck them. Seriously, I know it sounds wasteful. And it is. That’s why it’s important to refrigerate any foods that can carry bacteria as soon as possible. On a hot day, throw away food left out at room temperature for longer than an hour.
4. Refrigerate – Pathogens thrive in warm environments – that means room temperature, too. When bacteria are cold, they can’t grow as quickly. Store your perishables in the fridge or freezer. Also, if you’re marinating your meats, do it in the fridge.8
Now you know a bit more about where health issues come from. Knowledge is power. And you’ve got a great list of helpful tips to keep the pathogens in your kitchen at a low level.
Practice common sense. If something looks bad, stay away from it. And keep yourself, your kitchen, and your family as clean as you can.
Again, the human body is built to survive. Your immune system is stronger than you think. But, you can help it do its job by being careful.
1. Pathogen – Molecular Biology of the Cell – NCBI Bookshelf. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
2. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Introduction to Pathogens. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
3. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Introduction to Pathogens. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
4. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Introduction to Pathogens. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
5. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Introduction to Pathogens. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
6. Alberts B, Johnson A, Lewis J, Raff M, Roberts K, Walter P. Introduction to Pathogens. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2017.
7. Food Safety for Moms-to-Be: Medical Professionals – Foodborne Pathogens. Fdagov. 2017.
8. Food Safety for Moms-To-Be: Lifelong Food Safety. Fdagov. 2017.