What are “germs” anyway?

Help kids understand the definition of and difference between the four categories of germs.

In science class, students learn about single cell organisms, fungi and many other living growing organisms. Generically, these organisms are called “germs.” There are four different categories of germs: bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. To better understand each of these terms in the germ group let’s define each one. The Children’s Hospital Colorado provides a youthful look at the definition of germs.

Bacteria
This is a single cell organism that can be both good and bad for our bodies. Bacteria can be found everywhere even in the digestive tract. These germs also can cause illness such as strep throat, and infections. Good hygiene is important and eating thoroughly cooked and washed foods help maintain a healthy amount of good bacteria and ward off much of the bacteria that can cause illness.

Viruses
These germs cannot live on their own; they need a food source, which is a living cell. Viruses are tricky because they can live for a time on other surfaces until they find a new host – and they are always looking for a new home. Each virus has a different length of time they can survive without a home; some of them can live for an entire week on a surface if that surface has not been disinfected.

Fungi
This germ is a multi-celled, plant-like organism that can be seen. Fungi grow on plants and animals in dark moist environments because that is where they get their source of nutrition. Fungi aren’t dangerous to healthy immune systems, but they can be very dangerous for someone that has a weakened immune system.

Protozoa
This is another single-celled organism that thrives on moisture. Many times the source of protozoa is through contaminated water. This germ can cause intestinal infections.

Germs can be found everywhere, so it is important to take precautions that help protect us from getting sick. Michigan State University Extension indicates that by taking some simple steps like washing hands properly, canning foods using water bath or pressure canners, and cooking and storing foods properly, people can prevent illness from many germs.

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