The pandemic has raised awareness of the threat a particular pathogen poses to everyone. However, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and its variants represent only one type of pathogen. Being aware of the many other pathogens that affect us can help us prepare to combat them.
Most people think about pathogens, diseases and illnesses in reverse order. They focus on the illness, which comprises the physical symptoms they are experiencing. They seek relief and remedies and may pursue a medical diagnosis if the condition is severe. Medical professionals can diagnose the disease and prescribe treatment. Meanwhile, government agencies and the healthcare industry may be working on identifying the root causes (the pathogens) and dedicating resources to deal with them, as was the case with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, it is best to start at the source – pathogens – to better understand how these three concepts are related and how we can combat the sources of illness.
A pathogen is an invading organism that causes a disease or produces a toxin that can cause illness and even death. The primary types of pathogens are viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites and protozoa. For example, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. COVID-19 in turn causes illnesses in the form of symptoms such as fever, fatigue, pain and more.
- SARS-CoV-2 stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2
- COVID-19 stands for Coronavirus Disease – 19 (year identified)
There are actually seven different coronaviruses that impact humans, four of which cause symptoms of the common cold. Coronaviruses 229E, OC43, NL63, and HKU1 cause about 15-30% of common cold cases. They can also cause severe lower respiratory tract infections, including bronchiolitis and pneumonia, primarily in infants, elderly and the immunocompromised.
The other coronaviruses cause much more severe, and sometimes fatal, respiratory infections in humans and have caused major outbreaks of deadly pneumonia in the 21st century:
- SARS-CoV was identified in 2003 as the cause of an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) that began in China.
- SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus identified as the cause of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that began in Wuhan, China in late 2019 and spread worldwide.
- MERS-CoV was identified in 2012 as the cause of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Bacteria are common pathogens that cause a variety of diseases such as Lyme disease, salmonellosis, typhoid, pneumonia and staph infections, to name a few. Other pathogens also produce toxins – poisons – that can cause illnesses and death. For example, staph food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness caused by eating foods contaminated with toxins produced by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria. Cooking may kill the bacteria but the toxins that cause the actual food poisoning remain.
A disease can be defined as any deviation from the normal state of an organism. The common cold, influenza, measles, chickenpox, mononucleosis, mumps, pneumonia, Lyme disease, diphtheria and rheumatic fever are just some of the diseases caused by pathogens.
Diseases are also classified as infectious or non-infectious. Infectious diseases can be passed from person to person, from insects or other animals, by consuming contaminated food or water or by being exposed to pathogens in the environment that cause disease. Non-infectious diseases, or non-communicable diseases, are not caused by pathogens, and cannot be spread from person to person. Non-communicable diseases are caused by factors such as genetics, diet and lifestyle.
Illnesses are how disease manifests in the body. Thus, they can be thought of as symptoms that indicate a disease. Diseases cause many different types of illness. Still, it’s possible for someone to have a disease and experience no illness.
Preventing the disease, stopping the spread and destroying the pathogens before they can ever enter the body through cleaning and disinfecting can be just as critical as proper treatment and can be done by anyone, not just medical professionals.
Addressing Pathogens, Diseases and the Effects of Illness
To effectively combat the effects of illness, it is best to start by addressing the cause – the pathogen – with cleaning and disinfecting. Pathogens cannot be eradicated, but can be killed or, in the case of viruses that are not “alive,” deactivated.
There are three ‘combat zones’ in the fight to protect children and adults against pathogens, diseases and the effects of illnesses:
- Pre-emptively kill or deactivate pathogens before they have a chance to enter the body and cause a disease. This may involve cleaning and disinfecting areas where pathogens originate and propagate quickly due to environmental factors. Areas to address include food preparation areas and equipment, and damp and poorly ventilated spaces such as gym lockers, restrooms and animal and plant habitats.
- Prevent contraction by cleaning and disinfecting fomites, which are surfaces and environments a person may come into contact with where pathogens can be transmitted to the human body. Fomites can include shopping carts, pens, toilet flush levers, doorknobs, light switches, handrails, elevator buttons and any other items that may be frequently touched by different people and infrequently cleaned.
- Prevent transmission by reducing the risk of spreading pathogens from source to person. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness of the most common modes of transmission and how to combat them, including hand washing and more frequent surface and air disinfection. Illnesses can produce infectious or contagious substances, including vomit, fecal matter, mucous, spittle and others, that need to be attended to with proper cleaning and disinfecting.
Taking Preemptive Action Against Pathogens
We are constantly exposed to many different pathogens. Some can be quite harmful, even fatal, while others may have little or no adverse effect. The pandemic has demonstrated the havoc that one pathogen can cause. However, we need to be prepared to combat other pathogens to which people may be exposed.
Proper cleaning and disinfecting serve an important role in combating pathogens, the diseases they cause and the resulting effects of illness that may occur. The pandemic has shown that isolating when ill, physical barriers/social distancing and other mitigation methods may be useful. Those methods, along with proper cleaning and disinfecting, can help keep us safer from pathogens, diseases and the effects of illnesses.
For more information on how to enhance cleaning and disinfection in your facility, contact Laura Louis at Laura.Louis@spray.com.
Laura Louis serves as a Director at PathoSans, a leading provider of on-site generation (OSG) devices that produce ready-to-use, highly effective cleaners and disinfectants known as electrochemically activated (ECA) solutions. Learn more at www.pathosans.com.