Jane woke up one spring morning feeling not quite herself. Her throat felt a bit dry and she was sniffling. She wondered why she felt so lousy. Was it because of a change in the weather? The pollen count? Was she coming down with something? Did she catch a bug from her coworker who sneezed on her in the elevator yesterday?
The signs and symptoms we associate with illness can have many different causes. Sometimes they are the direct result of a pathogenic infection, but in other cases they result from a response by our immune system to a pathogen or another perceived threat. For example, in response to certain pathogens, the immune system may release pyrogens, chemicals that cause the body temperature to rise, resulting in a fever. This response creates a less-than-favorable environment for the pathogen, but it also makes us feel sick.
Medical professionals rely heavily on analysis of signs and symptoms to determine the cause of an ailment and prescribe treatment. In some cases, signs and symptoms alone are enough to correctly identify the causative agent of a disease, but since few diseases produce truly unique symptoms, it is often necessary to confirm the identity of the infectious agent by other direct and indirect diagnostic methods.
- 15.1: Characteristics of Infectious Diseases
- In an infection, a microorganism enters a host and begins to multiply. Some infections cause disease, which is any deviation from the normal function or structure of the host. Signs of a disease are objective and are measured. Symptoms of a disease are subjective and are reported by the patient. Diseases can either be noninfectious (due to genetics and environment) or infectious (due to pathogens).
- 15.2: How Pathogens Cause Disease
- Koch’s postulates are used to determine whether a particular microorganism is a pathogen. Molecular Koch’s postulates are used to determine what genes contribute to a pathogen’s ability to cause disease. Virulence, the degree to which a pathogen can cause disease, can be quantified by calculating either the ID50 or LD50 of a pathogen on a given population. Primary pathogens are capable of causing pathological changes associated with disease in a healthy individual.
- 15.3: Virulence Factors
- Virulence factors contribute to a pathogen’s ability to cause disease. Exoenzymes and toxins allow pathogens to invade host tissue and cause tissue damage. Exoenzymes are classified according to the macromolecule they target and exotoxins are classified based on their mechanism of action. Bacterial toxins include endotoxin and exotoxins. Endotoxin is the lipid A component of the LPS of the gram-negative cell envelope. Exotoxins are proteins secreted mainly by gram-positive bacteria.
- 15.4: Aseptic Techniques
- Fungal and parasitic pathogens use pathogenic mechanisms and virulence factors that are similar to those of bacterial pathogens. Fungi initiate infections through the interaction of adhesins with receptors on host cells. Some fungi produce toxins and exoenzymes involved in disease production and capsules that provide protection of phagocytosis. Protozoa adhere to target cells through complex mechanisms and can cause cellular damage through release of cytopathic substances.
- 15.E: Microbial Mechanisms of Pathogenicity (Exercises)
- These are exercises for Chapter 15 "Microbial Mechanisms of Pathogenicity" in OpenStax's Microbiology Textmap.
Thumbnail: Ulcer-causing bacterium (H. Pylori) crossing mucus layer of stomach. (Public Domain/modified from original; National Science Foundation via Wikimedia Commons).