Visit our foundation to give a gift.
View Locations Near Me
Main Campus – Hartford
Connecticut Children’s – Waterbury
Urgent Care – Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Danbury
Connecticut Children’s Surgery Center at Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Fairfield
Search All Locations
Find a doctor
Find A Doctor
Request an Appointment
Amenities and Services
Who’s Who on Care Team
Getting Ready for Surgery
What to Expect—Picture Stories
Pay a Bill
Understanding the Different Fees
Pricing Transparency and Estimates
Raytheon Technologies Family Resource Center
Family Advisory Council
Legal Advocacy: Benefits, Education, Housing
Electronic Health Records
Share Your Story
Pay a Bill
Login to MyChart
Clinical Support Services Referrals
About the Network
Join the Network
Graduate Medical Education
Continuing Medical Education
MOC/Practice Quality Improvement
Educating Practices in the Community (EPIC)
Learning & Performance
Meet our Physician Relations Team
Request Medical Records
Join our Referring Provider Advisory Board
View our Physician Callback Standards
Read & Subscribe to Medical News
Register for Email Updates
Update Your Practice Information
Refer a Patient
Find and Print Health Info
Health Information For Kids
Our bodies are pretty amazing. Day after day, they work hard — digesting food, pumping blood and oxygen, sending signals from our brains and much more.
But there is a group of tiny invaders that can make our bodies sick — they’re called germs.
Some kids may think that germs are bugs or cooties or other gross stuff. Actually, germs are tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease. Germs are so small and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. In fact, germs are so tiny that you need to use a microscope to see them. When they get in our bodies, we don’t know what hit us until we have symptoms that say we’ve been attacked!
Germs are found all over the world, in all kinds of places. The four major types of germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. They can invade plants, animals, and people, and sometimes they can make us sick.
Bacteria (say: BAK-teer-ee-uh) are tiny, one-celled creatures that get nutrients from their environments in order to live. In some cases that environment is a human body. Bacteria can reproduce outside of the body or within the body as they cause infections. Some infections that bacteria can cause include ear infections, sore throats (tonsillitis or strep throat), cavities, and pneumonia (say: new-MO-nyuh).
But not all bacteria are bad. Some bacteria are good for our bodies — they help keep things in balance. Good bacteria live in our intestines and help us use the nutrients in the food we eat and make waste from what’s left over. We couldn’t make the most of a healthy meal without these important helper germs! Some bacteria are also used by scientists in labs to produce medicines and vaccines (say: VAK-seens).
Viruses (say: VY-rus-iz) need to be inside living cells to grow and reproduce. Most viruses can’t survive very long if they’re not inside a living thing like a plant, animal, or person. Whatever a virus lives in is called its host. When viruses get inside people’s bodies, they can spread and make people sick. Viruses cause chickenpox, measles, flu, and many other diseases. Because some viruses can live for a short time on something like a doorknob or countertop, be sure to wash your hands regularly!
Fungi (say: FUN-guy) are multi-celled (made of many cells), plant-like organisms. Unlike other plants, fungi cannot make their own food from soil, water, and air. Instead, fungi get their nutrition from plants, people, and animals. They love to live in damp, warm places, and many fungi are not dangerous in healthy people. An example of something caused by fungi is athlete’s foot, that itchy rash that teens and adults sometimes get between their toes.
Protozoa (say: pro-toh-ZOH-uh) are one-cell organisms that love moisture and often spread diseases through water. Some protozoa cause intestinal infections that lead to diarrhea, nausea, and belly pain.
Once germs invade our bodies, they snuggle in for a long stay. They gobble up nutrients and energy, and can produce toxins (say: TOK-sinz), which are proteins that act like poisons. Those toxins can cause symptoms of common infections, like fevers, sniffles, rashes, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea.
How do doctors figure out what germs are doing? They take a closer look. By looking at samples of blood, pee, and other fluids under a microscope or sending these samples to a laboratory for more tests, doctors can tell which germs are living in your body and how they are making you sick.
Most germs are spread through the air in sneezes, coughs, or even breaths. Germs can also spread in sweat, saliva, and blood. Some pass from person to person by touching something that is contaminated, like shaking hands with someone who has a cold and then touching your own nose.
Steering clear of the things that can spread germs is the best way to protect yourself. And that means . . .
Hand washing! Remember the words that germs fear — soap and water. Washing your hands well and often is the best way to beat these tiny warriors. Wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze, before you eat or prepare foods, after you use the bathroom, after you touch animals and pets, after you play outside, and after you visit a sick relative or friend.
There is a right way to wash your hands. Use warm water and soap and rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cover your mouth when you cough to keep from spreading germs. So if you have to cough, it is best to do it in your elbow so you are not contaminating your hands.
Using tissues for your sneezes and sniffles is another great weapon against germs. But don’t just throw tissues on the floor to pick up later. Toss them in the trash and, again, wash your hands!
Another way to fight and prevent infections is to make sure you get all the routine immunizations from your doctor. No one likes to get shots but these help keep your immune system strong and prepared to battle germs. You can also keep your immune system strong and healthy by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good sleep. All this will help you to be prepared to fight germs that cause illness.
Now that you know the facts about germs, you may still pick up a cough or a cold once in a while, but you’ll be ready to keep most of those invading germs from moving in.
A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.
Washing your hands is the best way to stop germs from spreading. Learn all about the best way to wash your hands in this article for kids.
The flu is a virus that can make you sick for a week or longer. Find out more in this article for kids.
Did you ever eat something that made you feel ooky? It might have been food poisoning.
Did you ever eat something off the floor? Uh-oh. Time to read this article for kids about the 5-second rule.
Follow these tips to help prevent the spread of the flu.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.