A List of Pathogenic Bacteria That Causes Diseases

Pathogenic bacteria are those that invade the human body and cause disease. Once in the body, the bacteria multiply potentially causing cellular damage. Many pathogenic bacteria produce toxins and other proteins that accelerate tissue invasion and cause detrimental effects in various body organs. Antibiotics are the anchor of therapy for pathogenic bacterial infections.

Clostridium Botulinum

The bacterium Clostridium botulinum causes botulism, a potentially deadly form of food poisoning. The bacteria produce a toxin that damages nerves, causing progressive muscular weakness or paralysis. Severe cases can affect the respiratory muscles leading to breathing failure. Surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate approximately 150 cases of botulism occur annually in the United States.

Corynebacterium Diphtheriae

Corynebacterium diphtheriae is the bacterium responsible for diphtheria. The bacteria usually infect the throat causing sore throat and fever. Throat swelling may cause partial airway obstruction and respiratory distress. Corynebacterium diphtheriae produces a powerful toxin that inhibits protein formation in the body’s cells, potentially leading to severe complications. CDC explains that the diphtheria toxin may compromise heart and nerve functions. Diphtheria is rare in the United States due to routine childhood vaccination.

Legionella Pneumophila

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila causes legionellosis. This respiratory infection ranges in severity. The mild form of legionellosis is termed Pontiac fever. The severe form of the illness, Legionnaires’ disease, is potentially life threatening. The World Health Organization reports Pontiac fever causes flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, body aches, headache and dry cough. Pontiac fever is not life threatening. Legionnaires’ disease initially causes symptoms similar to those of Pontiac fever, typically with greater intensity. Additional symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease may include chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion, hallucinations, disorientation, watery diarrhea, and nausea and vomiting. Cough often produces pus-like or blood-streaked phlegm as pneumonia develops. Shock, respiratory distress, and multiorgan system failure characteristically occur as the disease progresses. The World Health Organization reports death rates from Legionnaires’ disease may be as high as 40 to 80 percent. Early diagnosis and institution of appropriate antibiotic therapy are important factors in decreasing the risk of death associated with Legionnaires’ disease.

Vibrio Cholerae

Vibrio cholerae is the causative agent of the diarrheal illness cholera. Contaminated food and water are the primary vehicles of cholera transmission. A toxin produced by Vibrio cholerae causes diarrhea. Disease severity varies widely. Some people develop only mild diarrhea; others experience massive diarrhea with life-threatening fluid losses occurring over a period of hours. Replacement of fluid and electrolyte losses remains the cornerstone of cholera treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports cholera proves exceedingly rare in the United States. However, travelers to developing countries without adequate sanitation facilities may be at risk for the disease.

About this Author

Tina Andrews has been a medical writer and editor since 2000. She has published in “Cancer,” “Ethnicity & Disease,” and “Liver Health Today,” and was formerly a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Andrews holds a Doctor of Medicine degree and a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry.