What Is a Microbe and What Does It Have to Do With Hepatitis?

The Role of Microbes in Hepatitis

Microbes. Sean Gallup / Staff / Getty Images

Otherwise known as germs, microbes are microscopic organisms, such as a bacteria, fungi, viruses or protozoa that are so small you need to use a microscope and special staining techniques to see them. The word microbe is often more convenient to use than the word microorganism, but the two terms generally mean the same thing. In many situations, though, microbe refers to just the harmful microorganisms (the ones that cause disease), whereas microorganisms refer to all microscopic life.

Microbes are abundant in all life on earth and live everywhere, including in the air we breathe, soil, water, plants, animals and in the human body. While some microbes are beneficial to health, others are disease-causing. 

What Do Microbes Do?

Most of the microbes in the human body is either beneficial or harmless. The beneficial ones help keep us healthy and perform the basic activities of life, such as digesting our food, absorbing nutrients, and producing vitamins and anti-inflammatory proteins. The human body is first populated with these healthy microbes during birth when it passes through a woman's vaginal canal. 

However, there are more dangerous microbes that exist in the human body as well. For example, about one third of people harbor Staphylococcus aureus in their nasal passages. This bacterium is usually benign, but can turn dangerous when it beats out competition from healthy microbes that normally keep it in check.

that can turn virulent. Of particular concern today is the increased number of disease-causing microbes that have developed resistance to antibiotics and other treatments. 

How Do Microbes Cause Hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver, and this can be caused by toxic chemicals, certain medications, and, most often, infection with a range of microbes.

There are five known types of viral hepatitis, commonly known as hepatitis A, B, C, D and E. Each of these five viruses can lead to short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) infection, which can result in liver scarring, failure or cancer

Because the five viruses causing hepatitis are different, they are transmitted differently as well:

Hepatitis A and E are spread through ingestion of food or water that has been contaminated by fecal material from an infected person, also known as the fecal-oral route of transmission.

Hepatitis B is spread through contact with infected blood or other bodily fluids such as saliva or semen.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through exposure to infected blood.

Hepatitis D is also transmitted through contact with infected blood, but only people already infected with hepatitis B are at risk because hepatitis B allows hepatitis D to survive in the body. 

Treatments for hepatitis focus on suppressing the virus in the human body and thereby protecting the liver and other organs from damage.


How to Prevent Exposure to Hepatitis-Causing Microbes

Effective vaccines are available to help protect against hepatitis A and B. The best way to protect yourself against exposure to the other hepatitis viruses is by:

  • Using condoms
  • Avoiding sharing needles, toothbrushes and razors
  • Demanding a sterile environment and safe practice during health procedures, or when getting tattoos and piercings 


Microbe Post, a blog from the Microbiology Society

The World Health Organization<

Continue Reading