A significant percentage of people, outside of healthcare domain, often tend to consider bacterial infections and viral infections as the same. This is one of the reasons for delayed identification of symptoms and incorrect use of OTC medications. Subsections will offer answers to the question – what’s the difference between Bacteria and Viruses? This will help individuals distinguish between the two or understand the difference between the two when briefed by a treating specialist. This will also help individuals pick the right medications when choosing OTC formulations for simple or common infections that are not known to be serious in nature.

Simple difference between virus and bacteria

Viruses are not living organisms, and depend on hosts for reproduction or for growth.  Bacteria are organisms with a single-cell, and produce energy themselves, with an ability to reproduce without the need for energy from a host. Bacteria can be classified into healthy bacteria and unhealthy bacteria, with the healthy bacteria playing an important role. However, it is important to keep the amount of healthy bacteria in check. This sharply contrasts with viruses which do not have a healthy role to play, but are disease causing in nature.

How infections caused by bacteria and viruses can spread

Bacteria (unhealthy) as well as viruses are responsible for infections attributed to microbes. These infections are known to spread in a manner that may be common. For instance, infections may spread by coughing, sneezing and when an individual comes into contact with an infected person. This could be through some act of sex, or kissing in foreplay. Individuals who also come into contact with contaminated substances may also get infected – such as food products, water and objects. An infected pet or livestock or insects and ticks may also be carriers of the infection. Mothers are also known to pass infections to babies in the womb.

In addition to this, microbes are also classified as acute or chronic infections. As the name suggests, acute infections are short term in nature and may require simple OTC formulations or prescription medications as treatment. Chronic infections can last as long as entire life, and all chronic infections require specialist medical intervention with prescription medications. There is another category of infections, known medically as latent infections; these infections may not present any symptoms initially, but may manifest at a later stage.

Different diseases caused by viruses and bacteria

Certain diseases caused by bacteria have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people globally. For instance, the bubonic plague is attributed to bacteria. Similarly, viruses are known to have and continue to threaten global health with different virulent infections. For instance, smallpox, Spanish Flu, HIV, Covid-19.

Symptoms of bacterial infections and viral infections

Some of the symptoms may be similar to both bacterial and viral infections. For instance, the patient may experience coughing, sneezing, or could have low grade or high grade fever. Other symptoms that are common to both types of infections include inflammation, possible bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. The individual may experience overall weakness and may also have to put up with severe cramps. Most of these symptoms are essentially indications of the body’s fightback against infections.

Some of the symptoms of bacterial and viral infections may be localized in nature, such as the infected area of the body. For instance, the individual may experience some kind of discharge, or there could be visible changes such as swelling or pain in the area. A reddish appearance may also be observed on the infected area. Certain viral infections have distinct symptoms, such as pain in the abdomen or joints. Other symptoms include possible vomiting sensations and nausea, apart from changes in the color of the whites of the eyes – which may turn to yellow.

What’s the difference between Bacteria and Viruses?

With the above background information, it is now time to delve deeper and understand a little more about the differences between the two microbes. Bacteria typically contain a rigid wall, with a membrane that encapsulates the fluid inside a cell, and are known to be complex when compared with viruses. Bacteria have been known to be in existence for more than 3 billion years, and are known to be resilient enough to survive all conditions. For instance, bacteria can live through radioactive waste, can remain unaffected by extreme temperatures, and can easily survive in the human body.

Viruses are small, and comprise a protein layer, with genetic material inside, that could either be DNA or RNA. As outlined earlier, viruses need a host to survive and reproduce. Viruses typically attach themselves to cells, and infect the cells which will then help in the reproduction of new cells. Viruses are also known to transform healthy cells into diseased cells. All viruses are disease causing nature, and some are known to attach specific cells in the body.

What is the role of bacteria?

Roughly less than 1% of bacteria are known to be disease causing with most of the bacteria acknowledged as healthy, with a positive role in the human body. Bacteria have a role, helping in the digestion of food, and help in ensuring delivery of nutrients to the body. Bacteria are known to surge as an immune response to fight microbes that cause diseases. Bacteria are also responsible for fighting cancerous cells.

What medications can be used to treat bacterial and viral infections?

The treatment of bacterial infections includes antibiotics in different forms. It is also possible to prevent certain serious bacterial infections with vaccines. However, antibiotics do not treat viral infections, and the best mode of treatment of viral infections is prevention through vaccines. It is however, necessary to add that various antiviral medications and formulations are presently available for treating certain viral infections. For instance, treatment or management of HIV and Hepatitis infections involves the use of antivirals. In a manner that is similar to antibiotics, antivirals are effective only in treating viral infections, and will not work against bacterial infections.

Leave a Reply