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Flesh-eating bacteria! Brain-eating amoebas! Worms living in your eyeball! These are not science fiction. They are science fact. Welcome to Shmoop's guide to infectious diseases.
An infectious disease is something that you can "catch." It means that something tiny got inside your body, probably without your permission, and made you sick. Bummer. Infectious diseases are responsible for 10-20 million deaths each year in the world. That means that approximately 1 out of 3 people who die on this planet today will die of an infectious disease.
Infectious pathogens (the things that can infect you) can be found EVERYWHERE. They are even on you and inside of you right now, and the only way to protect yourself is by reading this guide. Okay, okay that is not true, but we promise you some really cool (and creepy) information if you keep reading.
The most common causes of infectious diseases are viruses and bacteria. These two types of tiny troublemakers can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to the bubonic plague. Like a trending tweet they can spread from person to person and around the world very quickly.
You can also get infected by fungi and parasites. Did you know that some types of tiny worms can even burrow right through your skin and become permanent residents inside your gut? Talk about making your skin crawl.
With most infections, you won't even know that you have an unwanted houseguest until you start showing symptoms of a disease. Thanks to medical research, we have some treatments for many infectious diseases. One type of treatment is a vaccine which can prevent you from ever getting sick in the first place. If you do get sick, there are also a range of antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals available too, depending on which type of disease you picked up. Unfortunately, however, though research has come a long way, there are still deadly diseases with no successful treatments at all.
In this chapter you will learn more about different types of infectious diseases and what bugs cause them. Pay attention, this information just might save your life someday (as a bonus, you'll learn big words like epidemiology).
Be the Bacteria
We all know you've been aching to play with these tiny creatures and see how they interact with each other. This bacteria simulation game lets you control the populations of different bacteria, amoeba and viruses. Change the conditions to see the interconnectedness of the species. Bacteria populations even evolve.
Pandemic 2 allows you to be the disease that ravages the entire globe. If that isn't heinous enough, the way to win is to wipe out the entire human species. Hopefully getting this out of your system will allow you to be a little less evil to your teachers.
Travelling? Check this out first.
If you ever want to ensure your traveling destination isn't infested with the infectious diseases we so lovingly discussed, healthmap.org may be your most handy trekking companion.
Need to know something about tiny living things? This website, which encourages student (yes…you) contributions, will likely have just what you are looking for.
List of Diseases
Still have a hankering for some disease knowledge but find yourself worried that you may have contracted all of these diseases just by reading this chapter? The folks over at howstuffworks have created a list of diseases that you no longer have to worry about because medicine is awesome.
Viruses are small. Actually, viruses are extremely tiny. Here are some pictures of some of these miniscule mischief-makers. It took a lot of work and technological advances to gets these good pics.
Monsters Inside Me
This show will provide you with enough nightmare-fuel for the rest of your days.
In this TED Talk, Nathan Wolfe travels into the jungle to hunt for the next AIDS. It took over 50 years to identify the virus that causes AIDS; Wolfe wants to stop the next one before it even has a chance to sink its teeth in.
Beware: We're Outnumbered
Bonnie Bassler, superhero name aside, discusses how bacterial cells WAY outnumber human cells within the human body and how these cells "talk" to one another. We know…just one more thing to worry about, bacteria talking behind your back. Some pathogens like H.pylori which we mentioned in the bacteria section use this sneaky maneuver.
New Stuff On Viruses
This German podcast does a nice job breaking down the complexities of bacteria and viruses. If you want the really heavy stuff, check out the guest's podcast This Week in Virology (TWIV) where they discuss cutting edge virus research
Who Wants to Be a Microbiologist?
If you are considering a career in microbiology research, and worry that you may not have the nerd power required, give this podcast a listen. They interview scientists about their research and attempt to see what makes them tick and what they have up their sleeves. Scientists are an interesting bunch that love adding new members to the team. Study hard and listen up.