Difference Between Germs and Bacteria l Germs vs Bacteria

The key difference between germs and bacteria is that the term germ represents all types of microscopic particles including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, viruses, etc., that can make us sick while bacteria are types of germs that are unicellular prokaryotic organisms.

There are different types of disease-causing microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, fungi, prions, etc. which we name as germs. Apart from these microbes, germs include disease-causing objects such as spores, toxins, etc. as well. All these germs are harmful to us by any means. However, when considering all bacteria, most bacteria are harmless. Only a few cause diseases to living organisms. Therefore, this small percentage of disease-causing bacteria accounts as germs since they are harmful.


1. Overview and Key Difference
2. What are Germs
3. What are Bacteria
4. Similarities Between Germs and Bacteria
5. Side by Side Comparison – Germs vs Bacteria in Tabular Form
6. Summary

What are Germs?

‘Germs’ is a phrase which is used to refer to all microscopic objects and organisms which can cause illness to humans. Hence, this includes disease-causing bacteria, viruses, prions, certain fungi and protozoa, etc.

Difference Between Germs and Bacteria l Germs vs Bacteria

Figure 01: Germs

Early scientists used this word ‘germs’ to define invisible particles present mostly in air and on objects that can make us sick. However, this term is not widely used in modern times since they are now referred mainly based on their types.

What are Bacteria?

Bacteria are single-celled prokaryotic microorganisms that present everywhere. They live in almost all types of habitats including the soil, water, air, ocean, inside the animal body, in extreme environments, on foods, etc. Hence, they are ubiquitous organisms. Most of them are harmless. In fact, most of them are beneficial to humans. Many bacteria survive inside our body, especially in our gut. They help us to digest our foods.

Difference Between Germs and Bacteria l Germs vs Bacteria

Figure 02: Bacteria

Furthermore, bacteria are useful in many industries including food preparation, drug production, disease therapeutics, etc.  However, a small percentage of bacteria causes diseases to humans and to other living organisms.

Also, bacteria occur in different shapes such as coccus, Bacillus, spiral, comma, etc. They exist as colonies. Furthermore, some have flagella for locomotion, and some bacteria are photosynthetic.

What are the Similarities Between Germs and Bacteria?

  • Both germs and bacteria are microscopic.
  • Also, they are present everywhere.
  • Besides, bacteria are types of germs.
  • Both can cause illness in humans.
  • Moreover, their growth can be inhibited by antibacterial agents.

What is the Difference Between Germs and Bacteria?

Although most people consider germs and bacteria as synonyms, there is a difference between germs and bacteria. Germs is a general term that used to refer all invisible particles which can cause illness in humans. In simple words, germs are the bad microorganisms such as viruses, certain fungi, certain protozoa, prions, some bacteria, etc. On the other hand, bacteria are a group of microorganisms which are unicellular and present everywhere. Generally, bacteria are harmless. In fact, they are beneficial to humans. But, there are few bacterial species which cause diseases. Hence, they come under the term germs.

Difference Between Germs and Bacteria l Germs vs Bacteria

Summary – Germs vs Bacteria

People might get confused with germs as bacteria. However, the word germ does not solely refer to the bacteria. In fact, all types of bad microorganisms are germs including viruses, fungi, bacteria, prions, protozoa, etc. Among the bacteria, only a small part comes under the germs. They are the disease-causing bacteria. Most of the bacteria are harmless. Many are beneficial, and they help humans in many ways. This is the actual difference between germs and bacteria.


1.“What Are Germs?” Edited by Ryan J. Brogan, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, July 2018. Available here
2.Vidyasagar, Aparna. “What Are Bacteria?” LiveScience, Purch, 23 July 2015. Available here

Image Courtesy:

1.”1913183″ by Monoar (CC0) via pixabay
2.”3662695″ by qimono (CC0) via pixabay

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