Infections may spread via one of two microbes: a virus or a bacterium. Germs are all around us. They are in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the surfaces we come in contact with. Your body is gifted with a natural defense mechanism that is the immune system, which helps fight these germs. However, germs can overcome your immune system, making you a victim of these infections. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate whether a bacteria or a virus is causing the infection.
Virus versus Bacteria
Viruses are classified as non-living particles that infect a host cell and multiply, living off the nutrients from their host cell. It cannot be viewed under a microscope and it cannot be treated by antibiotics. Viruses usually infect plants, animals, and even bacteria at times. Most respiratory infections can be attributed to a virus such as the flu, the common cold, bronchiolitis, and some pneumonia. Anti-viral agents can be used to block the action of viruses.
Bacteria are larger than viruses, beyond the range of a normal microscope. While some bacteria found in your gut are proven to be beneficial for you, pathogenic bacteria are living single cells that infect your body and make you sick. Tuberculosis and UTI’s are bacterial in nature.
Spread of Viruses and Bacteria
Both bacterial and viral infections can be spread by inhaling, through touch, or coming into contact with an infected person or surface. Always wash your hands before handling a surface which is likely to have been touched by an infected person. Germs stay active for an hour after contact with someone contagious.
Viruses can be spread by:
- Particles spread by coughing and sneezing
- Contact with contaminated food or water
- A mosquito bite or one from another infected insect
- Exposure to body fluids such as vomiting
Bacteria can also get into your bloodstream via any passage, including:
- A cut or wound that may have been left exposed to the open air
- Taking in food or water that is contaminated
- Coming into close contact with an already infected person
- Getting infected via handles, faucets, or towels touched by an infected person
- A contagious person can pollute the surrounding air with particles that you may inhale and get infected
- Exposure to body fluids
Viruses sabotage your immune system and decrease your resistance to foreign pathogens, often accompanied by a secondary bacterial infection. The infection may be prolonged if the virus invades the cell for a long time. Viral infections are often accompanied by high-grade fever and extreme body aches.
When a viral infection progresses into a more severe secondary infection, it suggests a bacterial infection. The symptoms stay longer than usual, around 10-14 days, and the fever is also higher than a viral infection, which gains momentum rather than subsiding. A runny nose may develop into a sinus infection, and a persistent cough and a stomach ache may develop into pneumonia.
Avoid taking antibiotics for a viral infection as it gives rise to antibiotic resistant strains, making the process of recovery prolonged. Proper diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment is essential to deal with the symptoms of either a viral or bacterial infection.