Normal flora: Introduction, types, beneficial and harmful effects

Normal flora

Introduction of normal flora

Flora meaning from Cambridge  English Dictionary:-In the normal, healthy person the gut flora is a balanced community of different organisms. Normal flora refers to the population of microorganisms that inhabit  skin and mucous membranes of normal body. A healthy fetus in-utero is free from microorganisms. During birth the infant is exposed  to vaginal flora. Within few hours of birth, oral and nasopharyngeal flora develops and  in a day or two resident flora of the lower  intestine appears.

Types of normal flora

The normal microbial flora  is more or less constant  that can be divided into two groups-

  • Resident flora: It consists of organisms which are regularly present in a particular area and when disturbed it re-establishes itself.e.g. Escherichia coli is a normal inhabitant  of the intestine.
  • Transient flora:It consists of both non-pathogenic and potentially pathogenic bacteria that inhabit the body surface or mucous membrane for a limited period.They can be eliminated from the body surface by mechanical means. Pathogens such as  the pneumococcus and the meningococcus may be found in nasopharynx of human from time to time.

    Normal  flora of body sites

    Skin: Micrococcus species, Corynebacterium species, Staphylococcus epidermis

    Mouth: bacteria of enterobacteriaceae family, Lactobacillus species, Staphylococcus epidermis, Staphylococcus aureus, Neisseria species, Corynebacterium species, Haemophilus species

    Nose and nasopharynx: Neisseria species, Corynebacterium species, Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermis, Haemophilus species,Streptococcus pneumoniae

    Conjunctiva: Neisseria species, Corynebacterium species, Staphylococcus epidermis, Haemophilus influenzae, Viridans streptococci

    Large intestine and lower ileum: Staphylococcus species, Lactobacillus species, Clostridium species, Escherichia coli, Proteus species, Enterobacter aerogenes, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Mycoplsma species, Candida albicans, Streptococcus faecalis.

    External ear: Corynebacterium species, Staphylococcus epidermis, Staphylococcus aureus.

    Urethra: Candida species, Mycoplasma species, Mycobacterium smegmatis, Acinetobacter species

    Vaginal (between puberty and menopause-Acid pH): Lactobacillus species, Streptococcus species, Clostridium species, Corynebacterium species, Gardenella vaginalis.

    Before puberty and after menopause(alkaline pH): Staphylococcus epidermis, Micrococcus species, Enterobacter species, Corynebacterium species, Viridans streptococci

    Beneficial role of normal fflora

  • They prevent or suppress the colonization/invasion of the body by pathogens.
  • The bacterial flora of the intestinal tract synthesize vitamins, especially K and several B vitamins.
  • Antibodies produced in response to commensals cross-react with pathogens having related or shared antigens and thus raise the overall immune status of the host against pathogens.
  • Colicins, produced by some organisms of normal flora, have a harmful effect on pathogens.The endotoxins liberated by them may help the defence mechanism of the body by triggering  the alternative  complement pathway.

    Harmful effects of normal flora

  • They become pathogenic when the host resistance is lowered.
  • They may act as pathogens in tissue outside  their normal habitat e.g. normal flora of the intestine  may cause  urinary tract infection.
  • Streptococcus mutans may cause dental caries.
  • Penicillinases producing organisms can aggravate infection by interfering with therapy.
  • Use of broad spectrum antibiotics, affects the normal flora by inhibiting sensitive bacteria and thereby allowing overgrowth of resistant bacteria.
  • Normal flora may cause confusion in diagnosis due to  their ubiquitous presence in the body and their resemblance to some of the pathogens.
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