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Bacteria and viruses can cause many common infections, but what are the differences between viruses and bacteria? Bacteria are small organisms that are made up of a single cell. They are very diverse and can have a great variety of shapes and structural characteristics. Furthermore, they can live in almost every environment imaginable, even in or on the human body. Only some of them cause infections in humans, which are known as pathogens. Viruses are different types of small organisms, although they are even smaller than bacteria. Like these, they are very diverse and have a variety of shapes and characteristics. They are parasites, which means that they require living cells or tissue in which to grow. They can invade the cells of the body, using their components to grow and multiply. Some even kill host cells as part of their life cycle.

Transmission Differences Between Viruses and Bacteria

The Differences Between Viruses and Bacteria spreading. Two images showing how viruses and bacteria can be spread, viruses can spread in airborne droplets from coughs or sneezes, bacteria can be picked up from surfaces you touch eg mobile phone
While there are many similar symptoms, there are a lot of differences between viruses and bacteria. Many bacterial infections are contagious, which means we can pass them from person to person. According to the World Health Organization, there are many ways this can occur, such as close contact with a person who has a bacterial infection, touching them, or kissing them. We can also pass them along in an infected person’s bodily fluids, particularly after sexual contact or when an infected person coughs or sneezes. During pregnancy or delivery, mother-to-child transmission is another possibility, as is coming into contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs or key handles, and then touching your face, nose, or mouth. In addition to being spread between people, bacteria can also be transmitted through the bite of an infected insect. Consuming contaminated food or water can also lead to infections.

Like the previous infections, many viral infections are also contagious. Viruses can be transmitted between people in many of the same ways as bacteria. Coming into close contact with a person who has a viral infection or with the body fluids of someone with a viral infection, as in mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy or childbirth and coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. Also, like bacterial infections, viruses can be transmitted by an insect bite or by consuming food or water that is contaminated.

Cold

Sick couple catch cold. Man and woman sneezing, coughing. People got flu, having runny nose.
A cold can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and low-grade fever, but is it bacterial or viral? This is one of many differences between viruses and bacteria. The common cold is caused by several different viruses, although rhinoviruses are often the culprit. There is not much that can be done to treat a cold except wait for it to clear up and use cold and flu medicines to help relieve symptoms. In some cases, a secondary bacterial infection can develop during or after a cold. Common causes of secondary bacterial infections include sinus, ear, or pneumonia. A bacterial infection may have developed if symptoms last 10-14 days or continue to worsen instead of getting better for several days. Another sign is if there is a fever higher than what is generally seen with a cold.

Diagnosis

Cold and flu symptoms table chart, showing the differences between viruses and bacterial infections.
Sometimes the doctor can diagnose a condition based on medical history and symptoms. For example, illnesses like measles or chickenpox have very distinctive symptoms that can be diagnosed with a simple physical exam. Also, if there is a current epidemic of a particular disease, the doctor will take this into account in the diagnosis. An example is flu, which causes seasonal outbreaks in the cold months of each year. If the doctor wants to know what type of organism may be causing a condition, they can take a sample for culture. The samples that can be used vary depending on the suspected condition but can include blood, mucus, sputum, or urine. When a microorganism is grown, it allows researchers to identify what is causing an illness. In the case of a bacterial infection, it can also help them determine which antibiotic may help treat the condition

Treatments

Cold flu and virus treatment concept. Handkerchief, medicine, drugs and natural illness treatments.
Antibiotics are drugs used to treat bacterial infections, and this is one of the main differences between viruses and bacteria. There are many different types, but they all work to prevent bacteria from growing and dividing effectively. Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections. Overprescribing can lead to resistance, which occurs when bacteria adapt and become able to resist certain antibiotics.

There is no specific treatment for many viral infections. Generally, treatment focuses on relieving symptoms, while the body works to clear the infection. Drinking fluids to prevent dehydration, getting plenty of rest, using pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve aches, pains, and fever, or taking decongestants to help with a runny or stuffy nose are the best ways to deal with a virus.

Prevention

Ten ways to protect yourself from infection infographic
There are a significant number of differences between viruses and bacteria, but here are some of the tips that we should follow to help avoid getting sick with both a bacterial or viral infection.

 

  • Get vaccinated: Many vaccines are available to help prevent various diseases of one kind or another. Examples of vaccine-preventable diseases are measles, flu, tetanus, or whooping cough.
  • Well-cooked food: All meats must be cooked to the right temperature. Also, wash raw fruits or vegetables well before eating them. It is crucial not to allow leftover food to stay at room temperature; they should be refrigerated immediately.
  • Do not go out if you are sick: Stay home if you have an illness of this type to help prevent the spread of infection. If you must go out, wash your hands frequently and sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or a tissue. Make sure to dispose of used tissues properly.
  • Practice good hygiene: Be sure to wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and before and after handling food. Avoid touching your face, mouth, or nose if your hands are not clean. Do not share personal items such as eating utensils, glasses, towels, or toothbrushes.
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