How Does a Pathogen Enter Your Body?



  • The definition of pathogen is "disease producer." "Patho" meaning disease and "gen" meaning producer. Pathogens are microscopic organisms that can make a person or animal sick. Examples of pathogens are bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi. Not all microscopic organisms are harmful. Some microscopic organisms don't cause any ill effects to humans or animals. The microscopic organisms that are harmful are called pathogens.

    Sometimes pathogens enter the body and illness results. Considering that numerous pathogens exist everywhere in the world, the body does an amazing job of blocking pathogens from entering the body and fighting off pathogens that find a way in. Pathogens can enter the body through cuts in the skin, through the lungs, the digestive system, the mucous membranes, the eyes and the ears. Basically pathogens can enter the body anywhere there is an opening.

The Skin

  • Healthy skin provides a protective barrier against pathogens and stops pathogens from entering the body. Skin that has been compromised can let pathogens in. Cuts, scrapes and rashes leave openings in the skin that allow for the entrance of pathogens. Even though scrapes and rashes do not look like they leave openings in the skin, they do. Scrapes and rashes are damaged areas of the skin and cause very small openings in the skin. Sometimes the skin has miniscule abrasions and rashes that are not readily visible to the naked eye. Absence of visual damage to the skin is no guarantee that the skin does not have any compromised areas, which is one reason why doctors and nurses wear gloves.

    Dirty needles or instruments that pierce through the skin can allow pathogens to enter the bloodstream. This is why doctors and nurses only use sterile needles and medical instruments.

The Respiratory System

  • Some pathogens are airborne. The simple act of breathing exposes the respiratory system to pathogens. A healthy respiratory system produces mucous that traps the pathogens and later excretes them. So boogers and mucous are not always a bad thing. The lungs are lined with a protective mucous barrier to trap mucous. Some pathogens are able to burrow through the protective mucous barrier and attack the lungs. This is how respiratory infections happen.

The Digestive System

  • Putting something into the mouth is putting something into the digestive system. The mouth is the first part of the digestive system. Pathogens that enter the digestive system can cause illness. Food poisoning, stomach flu and parasitic infections can all be a result of pathogens entering the digestive system. Eating food and drinking water are not the only way that pathogens enter the digestive system. Touching the mouth or putting fingers or objects into the mouth can introduce pathogens into the digestive system. Some people have the habit of biting their nails, licking their fingers or chewing on pencils. Nails, hands and objects can have pathogens on them that can contaminate the digestive system. To help prevent illness, it is always a good idea to wash hands before placing them in or near the mouth and to not put objects into the mouth.

    The anus is the last part of the digestive system. Pathogens can enter through the anus when contaminated objects are placed into the anus, or through sexual activity. Condoms are advised during sexual activity to reduce the chances of sexually transmitted pathogens being transmitted. Enema and colonic irrigation equipment should be sterilized before use to reduce the chance of being exposed to pathogens.

The Mucous Membranes

  • Pathogens can enter the mucous membranes such as the nose and vagina. Placing dirty fingers or objects inside the nose can expose the body to pathogens.

    Sexual activity can expose the vagina to sexually transmitted pathogens. Condoms are advised to help prevent contamination of pathogens during sexual activity. Objects such as douches should be sterile when used. Women should wash their hands before using tampons to help reduce the risk of transferring pathogens from the hands to the vagina.

Eyes and Ears

  • The eyes and ears are both openings in the body which pathogens can enter. Blood, vomit, urine and saliva that enter the eyes can expose the body to pathogens. This is why surgeons often wear goggles to prevent the exposure of pathogens to the eyes.

    Placing dirty objects into the ears can expose the ears to pathogens. Some people place pencil erasers and other dirty objects into the ears. This should not be done. Not only can it expose the ears to pathogens, it can damage the eardrums if the object enters too deeply into the ear canal. Hearing aids should be kept clean and only sterile Q-tips should be used.

  • Photo Credit Credit: NIAID--Copyright: Public Domain
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