Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report



Bacteriophage: a virus that attacks bacteria. Each bacteriophage acts specifically against a particular species of bacterium.

Bacterium: microscopic single-celled organism, which may or may not be a pathogen.

Clostridium difficile: a bacterium which can cause severe diarrhoea or enterocolitis. This most commonly occurs following a course of antibiotics which has disturbed the normal bacterial flora of the patient's gut.

Colonisation: when micro-organisms reside on living tissue without causing disease.

Community: refers to diseases or health services which occur outside hospitals.

Compliance: the degree to which patients follow the instructions for taking a course of treatment.

Consultant in Communicable Disease Control (CCDC): a doctor, appointed by each Health Authority, who has responsibility for the surveillance, prevention and control of infections in the community.

DNA: deoxyribonucleic acid. The genetic material of nearly all living organisms, which controls heredity and is located in the cell nucleus,

Empirical treatment: management of disease, such as drug treatment, based on experience or observation rather than laboratory investigations, x-rays etc.

Enterococcus: a bacterium commonly associated with bladder, skin and wound infections.

Epidemiology: the study of the occurrence, cause, control and prevention of disease in populations, as opposed to individuals.

Escherichia coli (E.coli): bacterium commonly associated with a wide range of infections, including bladder infections and diarrhoea.

Flora: micro-organisms which normally reside on the skin, in the gut and in the mouth and upper respiratory tract. They usually protect these tissues from diseases.

Gonococcus: a bacterium which is the cause of gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted disease.

Haemophilus influenzae: a bacterium which most commonly causes respiratory tract infections and meningitis.

Helminth: any of the parasitic worms including flukes, tapeworms and nematodes.

Immunocompetent: having normal immune responses, as in a normal healthy person.

Immunosuppressed: having impaired immunity due to disease, for example cancer, or treatment, for example steroid drugs or radiotherapy.

In vitro: tests undertaken in laboratory apparatus, for example test tubes, not in a living human or animal. Literally, "in the glass".

In vivo: tests undertaken within a living human or animal. Literally, "in the living being".

Meningococcus: a bacterium which most commonly causes meningitis and septicaemia or blood-poisoning.

Microbe: any organism too small to be visible to the naked eye. Micro-organisms include bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa.

Microbiology: the science of the isolation and identification of micro-organisms. Medical microbiology is concerned with those micro-organisms which cause disease in humans.

Morbidity: disease, as opposed to mortality (death).

Mycobacterium tuberculosis: a bacterium which is the cause of tuberculosis (TB).

Pathogen: a micro-organism that can cause disease.

Pertussis: whooping cough. An acute infection, usually of childhood, which has characteristic spasms of coughing.

Pneumococcus: a bacterium most commonly associated with pneumonia and meningitis.

Prophylaxis: any means taken to prevent disease. For example, vaccination, or giving antibiotics when patients undergo procedures which put them at risk of acquiring an infection although they do not have an infection at the time of the procedure.

Protozoon: a single-celled micro-organism, usually bigger than a bacterium, which may be free-living or parasitic. Malaria is caused by a protozoon.

Pseudomonas: a bacterium causing a wide variety of infections but most commonly associated with patients whose immunity is impaired by either disease, treatment or indwelling medical equipment and devices.

Salmonella: a bacterium most commonly associated with diarrhoea and food poisoning. There are numerous species, one of which causes typhoid fever.

Staphylococcus: a group of bacteria which cause a wide variety of infections especially of skin and wounds. More serious infections include blood-poisoning and pneumonia as well as heart valve, bone and joint infections.

Streptococcus: a group of bacteria which cause a wide variety of infections including those of skin and wounds. More serious infections include scarlet fever and pneumonia.

Systemic treatment: drugs given by mouth (oral) or injection.

Topical treatment: drugs applied directly, or locally, to the part being treated, for example to the skin or eye.

Treponema pallidum: causative organism of syphilis.

Tuberculosis (TB): an infectious disease most commonly affecting the lungs. Treatment with antibiotics takes many months.

Vaccine: a preparation used to stimulate the development of antibodies and thus confer immunity against a specific disease or diseases.

Virus: a very small micro-organism of simple structure, only capable of survival within a living host cell.

Zoonosis: an infectious disease of animals which can be transmitted to humans.

This glossary is based largely on information supplied by the Association of Medical Microbiologists.

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