Bacteria and Viruses – The Basics

Let's talk about germs. People use the term "germs" loosely, to mean either bacteria or viruses. But the two are very different.


  • They are small, cellular organisms that can be stained on a slide and examined under a microscope
  • There are good bacteria, and disease-causing bacteria (pathogens.) For example, your intestine is loaded with the good kind. They take the nutrients so the pathogens can not move in and thrive.
  • Consist of three basic shapes: cocci (round), rods, and spirochetes.
  • Stain either blue (Gram positive) or pink (Gram negative.) The shape and their color when stained can assist in identifying the organism until it can be cultured and an exact identification can be made. For example, the gonorrhea bacteria are two gram negative (pink) cocci joined together. Salmonella are large, gram negative rods. Syphilis is a gram negative spirochete. Staph are gram positive cocci.
  • They reproduce asexually by dividing in half.
  • They can be killed by an antibiotic. Certain bacteria are only killed by certain antibiotics.
  • Be sure to take your antibiotic as your doctor prescribes. Some people will stop taking their prescription when they start to feel better. But here's a scenario of what could happen: After a few days, maybe 60% of the pathogens have been killed. You feel better, so you stop taking your pills. But the remaining 40% still there have now been exposed to the antibiotic, and are capable of changing to resist that medicine. These will reproduce, and now you have an infection that is resistant to the antibiotic of choice.


  • They are tiny, they can not be seen under a regular microscope.
  • Are a-cellular and are difficult to classify.
  • They invade a cell in your body and use that cell's (the host cell's) metabolism to reproduce. The virus injects its DNA into your cell and takes it over, forcing your cell to replicate new viruses.
  • Cause the common cold, AIDS, Hepatitis B, Herpes, Polio, Influenza
  • Antibiotics do not kill viruses. Disinfectants on a countertop will kill the virus. Scientists are finding anti-viral drugs.

Many diseases can be preceded with proper hand washing, cleanliness, and clean drinking water. Disinfectant hand soaps are not typically necessary because the scrubbing process of hand washing will remove the "germs."