And now for a brief yet educational interlude from Medium’s very own resident microbiologist and all around nerd about town……

Production of toxins is a critically important mechanism of pathogenesis, (sorry, should be “pathogenicity” I think, actually not 100% sure in this instance. No I think I was right initially, mechanisms of pathogenicity, mechanism of pathogenisis) for microorganisms in humans. Some cause disease by infection, that is actually infecting and replicating within the host and others do so by producing toxins. Some infectious organisms do also produce toxins but in those cases toxin production is a complication of infection and not the initiator of the disease process. Those that produce toxins (think Staphylococcus and staph enterotoxin, a particularly nasty heat stable toxin, as one example) typically cause more severe, quicker onset (1–8h post exposure) type illnesses, that resolve relatively quickly. Those that are infectious (think Salmonellla, E.coli O157:H7) on the other hand take longer from first exposure until symptoms are experienced (24–72h)but tend to be much longer lasting and harder to shake. In the case of disease by intoxication the original producer of the toxin need not even be present or alive for the toxin to trigger the illness and many are quite stable in the environment, resistant to degradation by heat and chemicals that will quickly kill the microorganisms producing the toxin. The branches of the immune system that are activated when exposed to toxins and when dealing with an infection are also different though that is a much more complex discussion.

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Research scientist (Ph.D. micro/mol biology), Thought middle manager, Everyday junglist, Selecta (Ret.), Boulderer, Cat lover, Fish hater

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