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Kenneth Todar currently teaches Microbiology 100 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His main teaching interests include general microbiology, bacterial diversity, microbial ecology and pathogenic bacteriology.

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Bacterial Pathogens of Humans (page 1)

(This chapter has 6 pages)

© Kenneth Todar, PhD

Historically, bacteria have been the cause of some of the most deadly diseases and widespread epidemics of human civilization. Smallpox and malaria, diseases caused by other microbes, have killed more humans than bacterial diseases, but diseases such as tuberculosis, typhus, plague, diphtheria, typhoid, cholera, dysentery and pneumonia have taken a large toll of humanity. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhea were the three leading causes of death (Figure 1). Water purification, immunization (vaccination) and antibiotic treatment have reduced the morbidity and the mortality of bacterial disease in the Twenty-first Century, at least in the developed world where these are acceptable cultural practices (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 1. CDC.


Figure 2. CDC.


Figure 3. CDC.

Albeit, some bacterial diseases have been conquered (for the present), but many new bacterial pathogens have been recognized in the past 30 years, and many "old" bacterial pathogens, such as Staphylococcus aureus and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, have emerged with new forms of virulence and new patterns of resistance to antimicrobial agents (Table 1). Great vigilance is warranted, and research and study are needed to control both old and new bacterial pathogens.

Table 1. Examples of bacterial pathogens and diseases recognized or reemerged since 1977
Bacterium Disease
Legionella pneumophila Legionnaires' pneumonia
Listeria monocytogenes listeriosis
Campylobacter jejuni gastroenteritis distributed world-wide
Staphylococcus aureus toxic shock syndrome
E. coli O157:H7 hemorrhagic colitis; hemolytic uremic syndrome
Borrelia burgdorferi Lyme Disease and complications
Helicobacter pylori gastric and duodenal ulcers
Ehrlichia chaffeensis human ehrlichiosis
Clostridium difficile antibiotic induced diarrhea; pseudomembranous colitis
Vibrio cholerae O139 epidemic cholera
Salmonella enterica Serotype Typhimurium DT 104 salmonellosis
Bartonella henselae cat scratch fever
Streptococcus pyogenes (Group A Strep)
necrotizing fasciitis (GAS); streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
Multiple drug resistant S. aureus (e.g. MRSA)
nosocomial and community associated infections
Chlamydia pneumoniae atherosclerosis
Clostridium botulinum sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Vibrio vulnificus wound infection, septicemia, gastrointestinal disease
Parachlamydia pneumonia
Corynebacterium amycolatum hospital-acquired endocarditis
Klebsiella pneumoniae
blood stream infections
Linezolid-resistant enterococci (E. faecalis and E. faecium)
nosocomial infections
Multiple drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii nosocomial infections


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Kenneth Todar is an emeritus lecturer at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught microbiology to undergraduate students at The University of Texas, University of Alaska and University of Wisconsin since 1969.

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