Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Although some bacteria are, from a human point of view, good guys, many of them wear black hats or monster masks. They are the bogeymen, as it were, among the microbes of the microscopic world. As such, as much as any of the other natural wonders featured in Chillers and Thrillers’ “Everyday Horrors” series, bacteria are everyday horrors.
Since I’m no scientist, this article will be more heavily sourced than most that I write, although, of course, I will include my own peculiar takes on the topic as well.
According to Unusual Microbes, bacteria come in all shapes and sizes. There are “big” boys, such as Epulopiscium and Thiomargarita, which are “big enough to be seen with the naked eye.” This bacterium “cheats.” No, it doesn’t take steroids. Instead, “it is mostly vacuole,” using “nitrate ions in its respiration” to enable itself to “respire at great depths.” Like the Leslie Nielsen character in the Creepshow, Thiomargarita can hold its breath for a long time!
At the other extreme is the archaeon, which “is very near the "limit" of what people think might be the smallest possible organism.”
Other capabilities of unusual bacteria, the same website declares, are those which “give birth to live young” (Epulopiscium and Metabacterium), “square bacteria” (Haloquadratum walsbyi), bacteria that can live at extremely hot temperatures (Strain 121, an archaeon can survive a temperature of 249.8 degrees Fahrenheit), bacteria that have survived for millennia in arctic ice, magnetic bacteria (Magnetospirillum magnetotacticum), cannibalistic bacteria (Bdellovibrios), and multi-cellular bacteria (Myxobacteri).
Some bacteria have adopted unusual diets, too, including those that enjoy each other (the cannibalistic Bdellovibrios and the Vampirococcus, which, Wikipedia informs its readers, “attach to their prey in order to digest them and absorb nutrients), dead organisms (Saprophages), and even human flesh (Necrotizing fasciitis)!
The flesh-eating Necrotizing fasciitis is so disturbing that it bears more than a mere mention, so, courtesy of Wikipedia, here goes:
"Flesh-eating bacteria" is a misnomer, as the bacteria do not actually eat the tissue. They cause the destruction of skin and muscle by releasing toxins (virulence factors), which include streptococcal pyogenic exotoxins. S. pyogenes produces an exotoxin known as a superantigen. This toxin is capable of activating T-cells non-specifically, which causes the overproduction of cytokines and severe systemic illness (Toxic [sic] shock syndrome) (“Necrotizing fasciitis”).As bad as this sounds (and it sounds pretty damned bad!), the symptoms of the condition are even more horrific. According to the same Wikipedia article:
The infection begins locally, at a site of trauma, which may be severe (such as the result of surgery), minor, or even non-apparent. Patients usually complain of intense pain that may seem in excess given the external appearance of the skin. With progression of the disease, tissue becomes swollen, often within hours. Diarrhea and vomiting are also common symptoms.The cosmological argument, which is better known, perhaps, as the argument from design, contends that the design that seems apparent in the universe suggests the existence of an intelligent Creator. There are several counterarguments to this view, the strongest of which may be the so-called problem of evil. According to this refutation of the cosmological argument, the existence of cancer, birth defects, mental illness, and, one might add, necrotizing fasciitis, among other evils, suggests either that God is cruel or that he is well-meaning but too powerless or incompetent to have created or to have sustained a universe where all is good and there is no suffering. However, there are various replies to the problem of evil as well, one of which states that the temporal evils that humanity endures allow greater eternal blessings. The microscopic impinges upon the macroscopic, just as time encroaches upon eternity and evil may itself become the instrument of greater and timeless good.
In the early stages, signs of inflammation may not be apparent if the bacteria are deep within the tissue. If they are not deep, signs of inflammation, such as redness and swollen or hot skin, show very quickly. Skin color may progress to violet, and blisters may form, with subsequent necrosis (death) of the subcutaneous tissues.
Patients with necrotizing fasciitis typically have a fever and appear very ill. Mortality rates have been noted as high as 73 percent if left untreated. Without surgery and medical assistance, such as antibiotics, the infection will rapidly progress and will eventually lead to death.
Note: Illustrations are from Wikipedia.