(Photo Courtesy of The Cell)
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It is estimated that there are at least four times as many parasites in nature than there are hosts. While we humans generally regard ourselves as the top of the food chain, in this section you'll get to know several of types of parasites that look at us as a source of food.
There are many different infections that can develop in the foot (and body as a whole, for that matter). They are typically grouped into three major families:
What's the difference between bacteria, viruses and fungi?
Bacteria are one-celled creatures. They exist everywhere, on every square inch of land this earth, and even on top of, and inside of, every one of us.
How many bacteria does our body harbour?
According to bacteriologist Theodor Rosebury:
Your body has several lines of defense against bacterial infection. The most widely-known defense against bacteria are white blood cells, which is one such line of defense your body possesses to perform this job.
You have likely even seen white blood cells at some point in your life without even knowing it, as much of the material that makes up pus, the whitish, yellowish material that sometimes oozes from a wound, actually consists of white blood cells that have died in the your defense.
What kinds of bacteria infect us?
There are numerous different bacteria can infect us. The major families of bacteria are:
Gram Positive bacteria: E.g., Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Clostridium, Corynebacterium. Being 'gram positive' means that the organisms stains blue when a certain dye is applied.
Gram Negative bacteria: E.g., Haemophillus, Enterobacter, Neisseria, Proteus, E. Coli, Klebsiella, Citerobacter, Pseudomonas, Morganella, Shigella, and Serratia. Being 'gram negative' means that the organism stains red when a certain dye is applied.
Aerobic bacteria: Most of the above are aerobic organisms, meaning they exist in environments with oxygen.
Anaerobic bacteria: Anaerobic bacteria exist in environments without oxygen. Examples of such organisms include Peptostreptococcus (most common), Peptococcus, Clostridium, and Bacteroides. These infections usually smell putrid.
Because there are so many types of bacteria, we have to direct treatments to the type of organism infecting each patient.
Who gets bacterial infections?
Any break in the skin can introduce a bacterial infection. But diminished circulation decreases your body's ability to mobilize its defense system to fight off an infection, and this is one big reason why bacterial infections are more common in diabetics, smokers, and the elderly. Diminished immunity, too, increases your odds of getting an infection. AIDS patients and patients on steroids are two examples of individuals who have a difficult time fighting off bacterial infections because of diminished immunity.
How do you know when you have an infection?
For information on this topic, visit our web page on identifying an infection.
How do you treat infections?
Most infections are treated through the following:
How do antibiotics work?
Because bacteria have a cell wall that is different from our the cell walls that make up our body and because bacteria have different cellular components inside cell than we have inside ours, we have designed antibiotics to target this difference. Most antibiotics work by weakening the bacterial cell wall, or disrupting the internal function of the bacteria. While bacteria are killed with antibiotics, our cells remain unaffected by those antibiotics because antibiotics are built specifically to act on bacteria only.
There are dozens of antibiotics on the market, with each designed to specifically kill certain strains of bacteria. Antibiotics are most commonly taken orally, but they can be injected or given intravenously (by I.V.). In the case with bone infections, we can even implant antibiotics surgically, mixed with special implantable materials.
But bacteria reproduce quickly (a good example of evolution occurring before our very eyes). An antibiotic that works today on a certain species of bacteria, may not work a few years, or even months, from now. Indeed, new "super bugs", bacteria resistant to any known antibiotics are quite common in the news these days, making it necessary to develop new antibiotics constantly.
Because this is such a large topic, we have devoted an entire web page to antibiotics you may wish to visit.
Viruses, in contrast, are built much differently from bacteria. Viruses consist only of an outer wall, with a small amount of genetic material inside. When viruses attack, they inject their genetic material into their host, and they shed their outer wall. The viral genetic material then moves into the nucleus of the host cell, and take over the function of that cell. It's sort of like a science fiction movie where an alien species takes over the body of its host. But it may make you feel better to know that viruses attack bacteria, too.
Do antibiotics work on viruses?
No. Because the only active part of a virus, the genetic material, lives inside our own cells, there is no foreign cell wall or foreign cell function for antibiotics to target. So far as antibiotics are concerned, cells that have been infected with a virus are indistinguishable from our regular cells.
That's why we have no real cure yet for conditions like the common cold, AIDS or warts. They're all caused from viruses, and there aren't nearly so many anti-viral medications as there are anti-bacterial medications (which are known as antibiotics).
Fungi (plural for fungus) are very different from both bacteria and viruses. Fungi have some qualities that would make us classify them as plants, and other qualities that would classify them as animals. So they are sometimes a little difficult for people to understand.
What happens if you don't treat the infection?
It depends. The fight between your body and an infection can go one of three ways.
Where do you get chronic infections?
Chronic infections can set up in a variety of locations--the lungs, the liver, intestines, for example. But in podiatric medicine, the most common location is in bone or joint.
Joints that are infected are called septic joints, and they can be difficult to treat. Intravenous antibiotics may be tried, but usually surgical decompression of the joint and removal of any diseased tissue is indicated.
An infection in bone is called osteomyelitis, and this may be even more difficult to treat. Again, intravenous antibiotics can work on some types of these infections, but surgery consisting of removing the dead and infected bone, then packing the wound with special implantable antibiotics, is usually indicated.
If these conditions are not properly treated, the best you can hope for is to fight the infection to a draw, and live with a chronic infection and the disability it brings. The danger is that the infection may someday breach the body's natural defences, and spread through the bone and even through the body.