Bacterial infections 101

Filed in: Diseases & Conditions.

What are bacteria?

A scientist examines the bacteria in a petri dish.

Bacteria are microscopic, single-cell organisms that live almost everywhere. Bacteria live in every climate and location on earth. Some are in the air, while others live in the water or on the ground. Bacteria live in and within plants, animals and people. The word "bacteria" has a negative connotation, but bacteria actually perform many vital functions for organisms and the environment. For example, plants need bacteria in the soil to grow.

The vast majority of bacteria are harmless to people and some strains are even beneficial. In the human gastrointestinal tract, good bacteria help in digestion and produce vitamins. They also help with immunity, making the body less hospitable to harmful bacteria and other harmful pathogens. When considering all strains of bacteria that exist, relatively few are capable of making people sick.

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