What is the difference between a viral and bacterial infection?

Not sure how to tell a viral infection from a bacterial infection? Then, first of all, pay attention to whether there is an acute sore throat, what is the dynamics of an increase in body temperature. If the throat hurts or perspires, but there is no temperature, then you are dealing with a bacterial infection, but a high body temperature without signs of local pain is evidence of viruses. These are two signs by which the nature of pathogens can be distinguished. But even if you think that you have recognized the cause of the disease, do not neglect the visit to the therapist. It does not take much time but can save you from the unpleasant consequences of self-medication.


Table of contents:

  1. What is a virus?
  2. What is a bacterium?
  3. What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium?
  4. The most common causes of respiratory illness
  5. Why should a person distinguish the cause of the disease?
  6. How to distinguish a bacterial infection?
  7. How to distinguish a viral infection?
  8. How are diseases manifested in children?
  9. Useful links

Most often, a person gets acquainted with viruses and bacteria in the cold season. Acute respiratory infections are one of the most common diseases in the world. Most of these infections arise from viruses and bacteria that enter the human body along with the inhaled air and settle on the mucous membranes of the nose or mouth.

So what is the main difference between the two? First, you need to clearly understand what they are and based on this, determine the difference and the principle of exposure to the body.

What is a virus?

A virus is the smallest organism that can exist and multiply only inside living cells. In the external environment, the virus is found in microparticles of biological material but propagates exclusively in the cells of living things. In other words, the virus is not active until it is inside a person. The virus gets there in the following ways:

  • Airborne droplets, like most respiratory infections
  • When drinking dirty water, with food, if hygiene rules are not followed
  • From mother to unborn child
  • By contact, in close contact through the skin or mucous membranes
  • The parenteral route, bypassing the gastrointestinal tract, by injection

After entering the body, the virus first attaches to the cell, then delivers its biological genome into it, loses its membrane, and only then multiplies. After multiplication, the virus leaves the cell, and the infectious agent spreads with the blood, continuing the total infection. Viruses can suppress the immune system.

After infecting the cell, the virus continues to reproduce, but it produces more viral protein and genetic material instead of the usual cellular products. It is this process that earns viruses the classification of parasite [1].

What is a bacterium?

The bacterium is a complete unicellular organism. She can multiply due to division. Not all bacteria cause infections. Some are beneficial and live in the organs of the body. For example, lactic acid or bifidobacteria. They live in the intestines and gastric tract, actively participate in the process of human life and form part of his immune defense.

The entry of bacteria into the body follows the paths of viruses. But the multiplication of bacteria is carried out more often outside the cell than inside it. The list of diseases that develop as a result of their penetration into the human body is extremely long. Bacteria can cause:

  • Respiratory infections (most often they are caused by staphylococci and streptococci)
  • Gastrointestinal infections (provoked by E. coli and enterococci)
  • Damage to the nervous system (can be caused by meningococci)
  • Some diseases of the reproductive system, etc.

Propagating, they spread throughout the bloodstream. This leads to a generalization of the infection and a clinical aggravation of the patient’s condition. Bacteria are also able to suppress the immune system, making the body harder to resist viruses.

Difficulties in the treatment of bacterial infections, especially those caused by dangerous pathogens (tetanus, tuberculosis, whooping cough, syphilis, gonorrhea, intestinal infections), stimulate their prevention [2].

What is the difference between a virus and a bacterium?

what is the difference between a virus and a bacterium

Viruses and bacteria can infect the body, causing an infection. The key difference between the two is in the reproduction mechanism. Viruses cannot multiply in the environment, so they need to invade the cell. Bacteria multiply by division and can live in the external environment for a long time, waiting for them to enter the human body. Accordingly, mechanisms for antibacterial and antiviral protection should also be different.

The differences between the virus and the bacteria are as follows:

  • Size and form of existence. The virus is the simplest life form, the bacterium is a unicellular living creature
  • Vital activities. The virus exists only inside the cell and infects it, after which reproduction (cloning) occurs. The bacterium lives a full life, multiplying by division, and an organism is only a favorable place of existence for it
  • Form of manifestation. Viruses tend to manifest themselves as fever, general weakness, muscle, and joint pain. Bacteria manifest themselves as unhealthy secretions (purulent or as a specific plaque)

Typical viral infections: SARS, influenza, herpes, measles, and rubella. They also include encephalitis, hepatitis, smallpox, HIV, etc.

Typical bacterial infections: syphilis, whooping cough, cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid fever and intestinal infections, STIs.

It happens that both of them cause the same disease together. Such symbiosis requires special treatment. Examples include sinusitis, tonsillitis, meningitis, pneumonia, and other infections.

The most common causes of respiratory illness

The common cold is a disease associated with hypothermia. This is a simple truth that mankind has discovered long ago. People were able to distinguish much later whether it was a viral or bacterial infection.

What happens to tissues during hypothermia? Why do they become inflamed and stop functioning normally? Today, not all people can answer these questions.

As you know, painful changes in human tissues and organs occur only under the influence of pathogenic microorganisms. The throat itself does not inflame. Inflammation is a tissue reaction to the activity of pathogenic microbes (viral or bacterial origin). Sometimes pathogens are fungi or protozoa. However, such agents are not typical for colds. The most common infections associated with the common cold:

  • flu and SARS (viral infections)
  • pharyngitis and laryngitis (maybe of a viral or bacterial nature)
  • pneumonia and tonsillitis (bacterial infections)

What is the process that promotes damage to the tissues of the upper respiratory tract by pathogens that is triggered by hypothermia? Staying in a cold environment is the reason for lowering the temperature of the human body. Such a decrease signals that it is necessary to increase the flow of blood to the internal organs and the blood supply to the upper respiratory tract is markedly reduced.

Normal human body temperature (36.6 ° C) is high for viral and bacterial agents. Falling into such conditions, they die. But with a decrease in temperature, a favorable environment for pathogenic microbes arises in the tissues of the nasopharynx. They take root and begin to multiply.

At the time of hypothermia, the protective functions of the body are significantly weakened. If pathogens get on the mucous membrane, then they practically do not encounter immune resistance and begin to multiply actively, poisoning this area with products of their vital activity. Quite a bit of time is enough (several hours) for the viral pathogen or bacterium to cause acute inflammation. Then preventive measures of immunity will not cope with the toxins of pathogens.

In addition to infectious diseases associated with hypothermia, diseases caused by infection from carriers of pathogenic microbes are not uncommon. Such infections include meningitis, measles, whooping cough, etc.

Why should a person distinguish the cause of the disease?

If we consider the initial symptoms of infections caused by different pathogens, then they are similar. Determining what the difference is is not easy. The typical symptoms of a cold include:

  • aches in the bones
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • runny nose
  • general weakness and malaise

Even a doctor can not always immediately distinguish SARS from pharyngitis. But already at this stage of the infection, it is necessary to start treatment, because a developing infection is becoming more dangerous every hour. The first measures must be taken with extreme caution: agents that fight bacteria cannot destroy a viral infection, and antiviral drugs are useless against bacterial infections.

For this reason, recognition of the cause of the disease cannot be neglected. Before finding out this reason, it is recommended only to increase the general immunity of the body. This in itself will have a positive effect on treatment.

How to distinguish a bacterial infection?

how to distinguish a bacterial infection

Microbiology deals with the scientific rationale for distinguishing between different infectious agents. However, even with the current level of development of science, no operational methods have yet been developed to determine the nature of pathogens in patients. The difference can only be established based on laboratory tests of blood and urine. The difference is fixed by the content of leukocytes.

A good opportunity to distinguish one from another could be a test for a respiratory infection caused by viruses or bacteria. But the production of such tests is only in the future, and at the moment they are not on sale. Therefore, in everyday life for a long time, we will have to try to distinguish pathogens, relying only on our knowledge and an attentive approach to health. To understand how to distinguish the pathogenic bacteria from the destructive effects of viruses, you need to have a minimal understanding of the nature of both.

A bacterium is a unicellular microorganism that can independently live and function. Tissue affected by pathogenic bacteria is exposed to bacterial toxins. To gain access to nutrients, the bacteria poison the cells of the human body. With a sufficient amount of organics and the absence of immune resistance, a bacterial colony grows very quickly in the affected area. Symptoms of bacterial infection are:

  • rapidly growing inflammation in a localized area of the tissue (you can observe the focus of inflammation in the visible areas of the upper respiratory tract
  • lack of temperature in the first stages

If only the throat hurts, but there is no temperature and the general condition is satisfactory, then most likely the upper respiratory tract is infected with streptococcus or staphylococcus. These are bacteria that are human symbionts. As long as the immune system is working properly, they exist on the surface of tissues in a depressed state. But if the immunity weakens, then favorable conditions arise for these pathogens.

Most often, bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. But if a person initially has strong immunity and after a slight decline he recovered, then it is highly likely that the infection will recede without antibiotics.

How to distinguish a viral infection?

The viral infection is a more common catarrhal disease. To get sick, just two conditions are enough:

  • penetration of the virus into the body
  • the lack of human immunity to this type of virus

The virus itself is not even an organism, but a part of a DNA or RNA molecule, which has a mechanism of incorporation into full-fledged living cells. That is, a foreign molecule with its program of action penetrates the cells of the tissue of the human body, containing its DNA and RNA, and begins to multiply in a favorable environment. A donor cell dies, releasing into the intercellular space a mass of multiplied viruses that infect healthy cells.

The infection spreads very quickly, and already in the first hours of infection, the body responds with high fever, headache, and runny nose. There are practically no foci of inflammation on the visible surfaces of the respiratory tract. This is the difference between the virus and a bacterial pathogen.

A generalized viral infection spreads until the body finds an immune response to such an attack. The patient’s task at this moment is to maximize support the defenses of his immunity. Doctors recommend bed rest, heavy drinking, vitamins, and a sparing diet.

How are diseases manifested in children?

how are diseases manifested in children

The common cold in children is the same as in adults. The only difference is that an adult can independently analyze the internal state, and parents should help the child. To determine if a viral or bacterial infection has caused a child’s infection state, perform the following manipulations:

  • examine the upper respiratory tract for inflammation
  • control body temperature
  • observe mucous secretions

The information collected over several hours of observation will help you make a preliminary conclusion and distinguish the pathogen by choosing between a viral and bacterial infection.

Sometimes in the human body, both viral and bacterial infectious agents can be simultaneously activated. These are the so-called mixed infections. They are possible with a sharp weakening of the immune system. It is too late to determine the causative agent of the infection. Self-medication in such cases is strictly contraindicated since it is impossible to mix antibacterial and antiviral therapy without medical supervision. Therefore, if you suspect a complication, consult a physician immediately.

Useful links

[1] Learn more facts about viruses by the link https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/158179.php

[2] Check the resource https://bacterialinfections.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/signs-and-types-of-bacterial-infection-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-diseases/ and get additional information about bacterial infections

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