Microbial Threats

microbes Microbial Threats

What is a microbe?

A microbe is a microscopic organism, such as bacteria, fungi or mold. Microbes are so small that there are more on a person’s hand then there are people in the world. The word microbe is often more convenient to use than the word microorganism, and it pretty much means the same thing. In many situations, though, microbe refers to just the harmful microorganisms that cause disease.

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What are bacteria?

Bacteria were the only form of life on earth for 2 billion years. They are remarkably adaptable to diverse environmental conditions and can be found in the bodies of all living organisms and on all parts of the earth. Some bacteria are essential to human life, while others, like MRSA or staph, can cause disease in human beings. There are more bacteria, as separate individuals, than any other type of organism found on the planet.

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How Does Bacteria Affect Surfaces and Fabrics?

The presence of bacteria on surfaces and fabrics can have many adverse effects. According to the Centers for Disease Control, bacteria, such as staph or MRSA, can survive on surfaces and fabrics for days or even weeks. Surfaces overwhelmed with those types of bacteria can act as transfer routes for the bacteria to move from a surface to a person’s skin. Furthermore, bacteria can be the cause of some serious odors and if left unchecked can begin to stain of degrade a surface or fabric.

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How Does Bacteria Affect People?

Bacterial parasites that cause disease are called pathogens. Among bacterial animal diseases caused by bacteria include staph, tuberculosis, cholera, syphilis, typhoid fever, and tetanus. Some bacteria attack the tissues directly while others produce poisonous substances called toxins. Natural defense against harmful bacteria is provided by antibodies.

New strains of more virulent bacterial pathogens, many of them resistant to antibiotics, have emerged in recent years. MRSA is among the most common of these new “super bugs”. Many believe this to be due to the overuse of antibiotics, both in prescriptions for minor, self-limiting ailments and as growth enhancers in livestock; such overuse increases the likelihood of bacterial mutations. For example, a variant of the normally harmless Escherichia coli has caused serious illness and death in victims of food poisoning.
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What are fungi?

Fungi differ fundamentally from green plants in that they do not need light in order to grow. Instead they live on dead organic matter or as parasites on living organisms. All fungi require for growth is a readily available food source, undisturbed water and time. Fungi reproduce by the production of spores that are easily transported via air. Spores will germinate if they land on a suitable surface with adequate moisture present. Fungi may have a characteristic and unpleasant odor (moldy smell). Some fungi are parasitic, that is they rely on living organisms as a food source. Some parasitic fungi cause infection in humans or animals.

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How Does Fungi Affect Surfaces and Fabrics?

The presence of fungi may be identified visually on suitable surface materials and by an unpleasant odor (moldy smells). Fungi usually do not grow rapidly indoors. However, if the environment is damp high levels of airborne spores can be generated. Condensation is the principal source of moisture that promotes growth of fungi on the internal surfaces of domestic dwellings.

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How Does Fungi Affect People? Infection

It’s uncommon for environmental mold to cause an infection in healthy individuals. Infection is more likely to occur in individuals who have a severe reduction in immune function (eg. after bone marrow transplant, cancer treatment, AIDS or major burns). Infections by some species such as Aspergillus species (aspergillosis) may be life threatening.

Exposure to fungi associated with bird or bat droppings, or soil contaminated by bird droppings, (eg. Histoplasma capsulatum and Cryptococcus neoformans) can lead to flu-like illnesses in healthy persons or more severe effects in immuno-suppressed persons. Some fungi are pathogenic in humans such as the fungus Trichophyton interdigitale that causes athletes foot and Candida species that cause thrush.
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Allergic reaction

Due to the presence of allergens on spores it appears that all molds have the potential to cause an allergic reaction in susceptible humans. Mold growth in buildings is associated with an increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms and diseases, such as asthma and bronchitis.

The symptoms most commonly observed are: sore throat, runny nose, hoarseness, cough, headache, fever, hay fever, fatigue and hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP). HP is also commonly known as Farmer’s Lung Disease. HP becomes more severe with repeated exposure and can result in permanent lung damage or even death.
Another reaction, Organic Dust Toxic Syndrome (ODTS) produces an abrupt onset of flu-like symptoms and a burning sensation in the eyes and throat and can follow a single exposure to large amounts of fungus-contaminated dust. ODTS usually lasts 2-3 days and does not generally result in permanent damage.
There are no exposure limits for exposure to air-borne fungi. Because of the variation in susceptibility of individuals to fungi and the diverse nature of fungi and their health effects there are no “safe” levels of exposure.
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What are molds?

Molds are fungi that can be found both indoors and outdoors. No one knows how many species of fungi exist but estimates range from tens of thousands to perhaps three hundred thousand or more. Molds grow best in warm, damp, and humid conditions, and spread and reproduce by making spores. Mold spores can survive harsh environmental conditions, such as dry conditions, that do not support normal mold growth.

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How do molds affect surfaces and fabrics?

The presence of mold on surface and fabrics can cause odor, staining and premature deterioration.

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How do molds affect people?

Some people are sensitive to molds. For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions. Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.

In 2004 the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition. The IOM also found limited or suggestive evidence linking indoor mold exposure and respiratory illness in otherwise healthy children.
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