What are Pathogens? 3 Types and How They Spread Disease

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all become much more aware of the microbes, or germs, around us. Microbes are ubiquitous; they are present nearly everywhere. They’re even on you now – and on the screen from which you’re reading. Some microbes provide vital functions essential for human survival, while others – known as pathogens – spread disease. 

This article will look at three different types of pathogens, how they are transmitted, the diseases they cause, and how to reduce the risk of infection.

Different Types of Pathogens

Pathogens (sometimes called infectious agents or germs) are tiny organisms that can cause disease. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are all types of pathogens. These pathogens vary in many different ways, but they have one thing in common: Once they invade the human body, they can damage cells or interfere with the body’s normal activities. 

The different types of pathogens and the severity of illness that they can cause are very diverse. Some pathogenic infections may be mild, while others can be life-threatening. For example, the common cold is generally a mild viral infection compared to the Ebola virus disease (EVD), a severe, often fatal, illness. 

Pathogens can enter the body in several ways: 

  • Breathing them in. 
  • Contact with blood or other bodily fluids.
  • Ingesting contaminated food or water. 
  • Physical contact with contaminated surfaces. 


Bacteria are one-celled organisms that can only be seen with a microscope. These organisms are incredibly diverse and can live in just about every environment, including in and on the human body. In fact, bacteria in the human body outnumber human cells by about ten to one. According to Dr. Martin J. Blaser at the New York University of Medicine, “The current estimate is that humans have 10 trillion human cells and about 100 trillion bacterial cells.” 

Not all bacteria cause disease; those can are called pathogenic bacteria. There are many types of harmful bacteria. The body can be more prone to bacterial infections when a virus compromises the immune system. 

Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotic resistance happens when a person uses antibiotics too often. In this instance, antibiotics can no longer effectively fight the bacteria because the pathogens have essentially outsmarted them; this means that the germs are not killed and continue to grow. One example of this is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This staph infection is challenging to treat because it has become immune to the antibiotics normally used to treat other infections in the staph family.

Common bacterial infections include: 

  • Salmonella enterica
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli) 
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Streptococcus
  • Viruses 

    A virus is the simplest of germs: it is nothing but genetic material (either DNA or RNA) encased in protein. Scientists debate whether viruses are even "alive." On their own, viruses can’t accomplish much of anything—they need to enter a living thing (called a “host”) to perform their only function, which is to replicate.

    When a virus gets inside the human body, it can invade cells and hijack the cellular processes to produce a virally encoded protein that replicates the virus’s genetic material. In essence, the virus clones itself. When the virus reproduces faster than the immune system can control it, it begins to destroy cells and harm the body. Viruses are capable of infecting any living thing, including bacteria and fungi. 

    Viruses are generally the easiest pathogens to contract––they are so tiny they can quickly spread through the air in a cough or a sneeze, such as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), for example. Other viruses are spread through bodily fluids, contaminated surfaces, or insect bites. 

    Common viral infections include: 


    There are millions of species of fungi, some of which cause illness in humans. Fungal infections can be contagious and can spread from one person to another. In some cases, people can be infected by disease-causing fungi by touching contaminated soil, surfaces, or infected animals. 

    Some fungal infections are caused by exposure to mold spores. One such infection is Aspergillosis, caused by Aspergillus, a common mold (a type of fungus) that lives indoors and outdoors. While most people breathe in mold spores every day, those with weakened immune systems or lung diseases are at a higher risk of developing health problems due to exposure to molds. 

    A 2018 study in Trends in Microbiology found that fungal pathogens are evolving the capacity for memory. The fungi can use signals in the human body to anticipate threats to their survival and activate immune evasion strategies. 

    Common fungal infections include: 

    • Athlete’s foot 
    • Ringworm
    • Yeast infection
    • Onychomycosis (Fungal nail infection) 

    Protecting Against Pathogens 

    The best way to stay healthy is to prevent infections from happening in the first place. Many diseases can be prevented through simple tactics like these: 

    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
    • Cover coughs and sneezes. 
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. 
    • Staying home if you’re sick.
    • Seek medical care if you suspect that you have an infection. 
    • Avoid contaminated food and water.
    • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often with an EPA-registered disinfectant, such as Vital Oxide

    Related: How Important is Surface Disinfection in the Fight Against Pathogens? 

    Vital Oxide: Disinfection for Infection Prevention  

    Numerous studies have shown that the disinfection of surfaces is a preventive and strategic method to contain the spread of harmful germs. Vital Oxide is unique in that it is effective against a broad spectrum of pathogens. It also has the advantage of being an all-in-one product, as it can be used to clean, sanitize, and disinfect a wide range of surfaces. 

    At Vital Oxide, we’re proud to offer a revolutionary disinfectant powerful enough to kill 99.9% of viruses and bacteria without harsh chemicals. Follow us on Instagram (@vitaloxideofficial) for more great cleaning and disinfecting tips. If you have any questions, please Contact Us or Send Us a Message on Facebook. We're here to help.
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