Viral Infection or Bacterial Infection: What’s the Difference?

viral infection or bacterial infection

Most people use the terms “virus” and “bacteria” interchangeably, but there’s really a vast difference between the two when speaking medically. Each infection, for example, requires a different course of treatment. To understand the difference between viruses and bacteria and the types of infection each brings, we should look at each one individually. 

Virus vs Bacteria

First, let’s look at viruses, what they are and how they operate. Here is something that will probably surprise you, viruses are not alive. They must enter a living cell to do anything; viruses cannot multiply unless they use a host cell. A virus can infect all types of life (animals, plants, bacteria and so on). A virus will commandeer a cell and turn it into a machine that manufactures whatever it needs to replicate itself.  Think of a virus as a complex set of codes – its only goal is to find a host cell and multiply.

Unlike viruses, bacteria are microorganisms. They are alive and can reproduce. Bacteria were most likely the first type of life on earth, and contrary to popular belief, they are not all bad. In fact, many bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts (they help you with digestion). Almost all life on earth depends on bacteria to live. 

Another surprising fact: If you were to separate all bacteria, animal and plant life and put each in a pile, the pile of bacteria would be much bigger than the other two combined.

viral infectionViral Infection

A viral infection can range from nuisance to lethal. For example, the common cold is caused by a virus, but viruses can cause more severe infections like Ebola or HIV. Most viral infections tend to last from a few days to a couple of weeks. There is a class of drugs called antiviral which is used to combat viral infections, but remember, a virus is not alive. If you try to use an antibiotic, it will not affect it. The word antibiotic explains this – “anti” means “against” and “biotic” means “life”. 

Bacterial Infection

Bacteria are adaptable. While the use of antibiotics is the right approach, its overuse can lead to bacteria adapting and being capable of resisting the antibiotic. There are different types of antibiotics that your doctor will prescribe depending on the bacterial infection. Keep in mind that antibiotics kill healthy bacteria as well and that using the wrong type or an unrecommended amount will harm your body.

viral infectionVisit your Doctor to Make Sure You Take the Right Course of Action

As you just learned, taking antibiotics to treat a virus not only will result in failure, but will also harm you by killing the good bacteria in your system. The best thing you can do is contact your medical professional and follow their advice. If you’re feeling under the weather, stop by an UrgentMED Network walk-in clinic. We will get you in, administer diagnostic testing, and help you fight any infection. Come see us at one of our 18 convenient locations throughout Southern California.