Bacterial and Viral Infections

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Bacterial infections and viral infections are both caused by microorganisms that are common in the environment. What do you need to know about virus vs bacteria or viral vs bacterial infection? Most often the distinction is important in answering the question, “Do I have a viral or bacterial infection?”

Differences Between Viral and Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are single-cell organisms. They have a wide variety of shapes and structures and can live in almost any environment, including on and inside the human body. Most bacteria are harmless to people, with only a small number capable of causing infection. In fact, many kinds of bacteria are helpful, like those in our intestinal tract that aid in the digestion of food.

Viruses are parasitic and smaller than bacteria. This means they can only grow inside living tissue or cells. They actually reprogram cells to help them multiply and may kill the cell as part of their lifecycle.

Types of Viral and Bacterial Infections

In looking at a bacterial and viral infections list, there are distinct types of bacterial infection and types of viral infection. For example, strep throat, urinary tract infections, whooping cough and tuberculosis are bacterial infections. The common cold, chickenpox and HIV/AIDS are viral infections. Other illnesses, however, can be caused by bacteria or a virus. For example, bacterial sinus infections are common, but the illness can also be caused by a virus. Bronchitis and ear infections can also be caused by either microorganism.

Viral vs. Bacterial Infection Symptoms

Viral infection symptoms and bacterial infection symptoms can be very similar. They include:

  • Fever
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Inflammation
  • Cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

All of these symptoms are tactics the body uses to eliminate the invading microorganisms.

However, some of the signs of bacterial infection are different than virus symptoms. For example, with bacterial infection:

  • Symptoms may last longer than the typical 10-14 days for viral infections.
  • The fever may be higher than that of a viral infection.
  • The fever worsens a few days into the illness rather than improving.

Ultimately, deciphering viral vs. bacterial infection symptoms is best left to your doctor. If you’re feeling especially sick or have an illness that’s lingering, you should make an appointment.

Viral vs. Bacterial Infection Treatment

Most bacterial infections can be successfully treated with antibiotics. Because bacteria are adaptable and can become immune to antibiotics over time, doctors are careful about how they prescribe these bacterial infection treatments in an effort to keep bacteria from evolving into more dangerous forms. In addition, overuse of antibiotics can harm the helpful bacteria in the body.

On the other hand, antibiotics are ineffective in treating viruses. The first line of defense with many viruses is a vaccination that teaches the body how to react effectively to the organism. There are also viral infection treatments called antivirals. However, for many viral conditions, the best approach is to treat the symptoms and let the illness run its course.

With either type of infection, there are steps you can take to get relief. This includes things like:

  • Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, as directed
  • Using a humidifier or cool mist vaporizer to relieve a sore throat
  • Sucking on ice chips for a sore throat
  • Taking over-the-counter decongestants or expectorants, as directed
  • Taking over-the-counter cough suppressants, as directed

If you believe you have an infection, make an appointment with your Baptist Health primary care physician to talk about treatment options.