Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Background: The spread of infection through our hands and sneezes

Article discussing how infection can be spread through hands, sneezes, etc, and how this differs for bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
Links to activities: respiratory hygiene, horrid hands, and soap, water, and pepper experiment.

We learned earlier about bacteria, viruses and fungi: three different types of microbes that can cause infection. Someone who has contracted harmful disease-causing microbes is said to be infected. Diseases caused by such microbes are said to be infectious diseases.

  • When harmful bacteria reproduce in our bodies, they can produce harmful substances called toxins which can make us feel ill, or in the worst-case scenarios, damage tissues and organs.
  • Viruses act like parasites. On entering our bodies, they require a host cell to survive. Once inside a cell, they multiply and burst free when fully grown, and in doing so destroy the host cell.
  • Fungi generally do not kill their host. Dermatophytes, a type of pathogenic fungi, prefer to grow or colonise under the skin. It is the secondary products they produce while feeding that cause swelling and itching, such as athlete’s foot.

Many harmful microbes can pass from one person to another by several different routes – air, touch, water, food, aerosols, animals, etc.

It is important to remember that not all microbes are harmful, and some microbes are only harmful when taken out of their normal environment. For instance, Escherichia coli (E. coli) is commonly found in our gut and is harmless, but if it is transmitted to the urinary tract it can cause urinary tract and kidney infections.

Cartoon image showing examples of how infection can be spread

Image taken from e-Bug Junior Pack “1.3 Micro-organisms: Harmful Microbes” Student Handout 1.


The UK government has published guidance on COVID-19 for educational settings and other non-clinical settings. e-Bug also has a webpage that highlights resources and information specific to this disease.

We can limit the spread of disease by practising good hand and respiratory hygiene, which we will discuss throughout the next few steps.

This article is from the free online

e-Bug Health Educator Training

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now