Bacterial VS Viral Infection: What’s the Difference?

When pathogens (microorganisms) such as bacteria or viruses enter our bodies and multiply, they can cause harmful infections.

Infections resulting from viruses are called viral infections, and those caused by bacteria, bacterial infections. Both are invisible to the naked eye, can be contagious and cause similar symptoms such as inflammation, fever, coughing or vomiting.

Although viral and bacterial infections share similarities, there are primary differences between the two.

Bacteria are living, single-celled organisms that can reproduce on their own. They can survive in different environments inside and outside the human body. Most species are harmless and some are even beneficial for our health. However, a very small percent can cause illnesses such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, or in more severe cases cholera or tuberculosis.  Doctors can treat most bacterial infections with antibiotics.  Unfortunately, some strains have become resistant to these medications.

Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and are not considered to be living organisms.  They consist of a core of genetic code, a coat of protein and fat lipids to protect them. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own and require living hosts such as people or animals to survive. Unlike bacteria where only a small percent is harmful to our health, most viruses cause illness and disease. Viral conditions include measles, chickenpox, HIV, polio, and COVID-19.  Antibiotics are inefficient in treating these illnesses. Treatment for viral infections focuses on alleviating symptoms. Doctors may also prescribe antiviral medications to help the body fight infection.

Bacteria and viruses are all around us; therefore, there will always be a risk for infection and transmission. However, we can prevent this from occurring by practicing proper hand hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, staying home when sick and getting vaccinated, when possible.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.