Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Bacterial and fungal infections occur almost anywhere in the body. Some infections are easily recognised by their “trademark” signs while others are more difficult to identify. The treatment varies according to infection type and location. Some infections are preventable.

Description and Causes
You could fill a whole book writing about bacterial or fungal infections and even then, you wouldn’t say everything. So, these paragraphs are limited to infections that we are likely to encounter in our lives or hear about. Bacteria inhabit our skin, our bowels and our environment. We can’t get away from them. Fungal infections are sometimes called yeast infections. Strictly speaking yeast is a fungus used for making bread and beer so the term “yeast infection” doesn’t really make sense although it is often used. The fungus causing infections is not the same as the one used to make bread and beer.

Bacterial and fungal infections occur throughout our lives. Some are more likely to occur in childhood, others in adulthood and others in old age. Bacteria are more likely than fungi to cause the infections which occur “inside” the body such as the throat, sinuses, lungs and bladder. Fungal infections tend to occur in the superficial parts such as the skin and the nails. Bacteria also cause skin infections.

We could consider a “timeline” of bacterial and fungal infections. A mother might notice her baby has red eyes which ooze yellow pus. Redness and pus are often found in bacterial infections. Red sticky eyes are signs of conjunctivitis. Mum might notice the baby has a white coating on the tongue and white patches on the inner cheeks. This is a sign of a fungal infection caused by an organism called Candida. We often call the infection “thrush”. Candida also causes nappy rash.

Throat infections occur at any age but more often in children. They may be bacterial or viral. Bacterial throat infections can cause redness of the tonsils and even yellow coating on the tonsils. Ear infections may be bacterial, viral or fungal. Bacterial infections can be particularly troublesome. They can occur in the middle ear (otitis media) or the ear canal (otitis externa). Most ear canal infections are bacterial but a small proportion may be fungal.

A child may get fungal infection with a bald patch in the scalp. Meningitis is uncommon in the UK and may be caused by bacteria or fungi – the first being more likely than the second. Children and young people are the more likely victims.

Once sexual activity starts, it can bring a whole set of new infections. Cystitis and sexually transmitted diseases are the main ones. They are mainly caused by bacteria and viruses.

Fungal infections of the nails occur at any age, but those who come to the doctor are usually adults and the elderly. Fungal infections of the skin (alias ringworm) occur at any age.

An older person may get bronchitis or pneumonia in the winter because of a bacterial infection, although these infections too occur at any age.

Fungal infections in the inner parts of the body are rare but they can occur. This happens when people have conditions such as leukaemia and poorly controlled HIV. The fungi manage to enter the body because of the weakened immune system and invade parts such as the brain and lungs.

The symptoms of bacterial and fungal infections depend on where they occur. Both types of infection cause redness of the skin. Bacterial infections may be associated with pus as with a skin boil or ear discharge. Fungal infections of the nail cause discoloured hard nails. The fungus Candida causes oral and vaginal thrush. There may be itch and white vaginal discharge. Athlete’s foot (Tinea pedis) is a common fungal infection. It occurs between the toes where it causes inflammation, tender cracks and itch. Ringworm Tinea corporis) is another common fungal infection. The infection spreads in the body like a growing red ring.

Antibiotics (Penicillin, Erythromycin, Ciprofloxacin are examples) are the treatment for bacterial infections. Specific antibiotics kill specific bacteria. Bacteria have their preference for where they cause infection. Certain bacteria will prefer the ear, others the lungs, others the skin and others the intestines. Antifungals are the treatment for fungal infection. Miconazole and Clotrimazole are examples of treatment for fungal skin infection, Athlete’s foot and vaginal thrush. Nystatin is used to treat oral thrush. Terbinafine tablets are good for fungal nail infections.

Some bacterial infections can be prevented by good hygiene. Cuts should be cleaned thoroughly with antiseptic to prevent bacteria entering the skin and causing infection. Fungal infections thrive in moist, damp parts of the body. Closing the feet in trainers for long periods can predispose to Athlete’s foot as can swimming without careful attention to drying between the toes. Wearing flip-flops in the shower area of swimming pools can prevent Athlete’s foot.

In: General Medicine,