Bacterial vs. Viral Infections


Winter is THE season for both bacterial and viral infections. Understanding the difference between bacterial and viral infections can help manage expectations regarding treatments available. Viral infections include the common cold, flu, most coughs, bronchitis, and chickenpox. Bacterial infections include pneumonia, strep throat, urinary tract infections, and most sinus infections.

Bacterial and viral infections have many things in common:

1. They are microbes too small to be seen
2. They can cause both acute or chronic infections
3. Both cause mild, moderate, or severe disease
4. Both may have similar symptoms such as fever, cough, diarrhea, fatigue, and vomiting – although a good health professional knows how to differentiate between them

Both viruses and bacterial infections can be spread by:

1. Coughing and sneezing (fluid microparticles in the air)
2. Body fluids – such as saliva (like sharing a drink)
3. Contaminated hands, surfaces, food, and water
4. Contaminated creatures such as pets, livestock, fleas, and ticks

However, bacterial and viral infections also have these important differences:

1. Most bacteria are friendly and will not cause harm. We need bacteria in our system to stay healthy. Viruses almost always cause illness.
2. you can treat bacterial infections with antibiotics. Viral infections cannot!

Viruses and bacteria are tricky. Not only can they cause similar symptoms, but many illnesses—like pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea—can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria. Your doctor will need to run tests, such as a throat culture, urinary test, and blood tests, to determine if an illness is viral or bacterial. EMA Care advises that any sore throat, with or without a fever and not accompanied by a cold, needs to be checked for strep throat. Strep throat symptoms for adults include pain with swallowing, fever, and swollen red tonsils. Symptoms may get better without medication in a few days, but the untreated bacterial infection can spread to more dangerous organs, such as your heart!

Many people get frustrated because a viral infection can take as long as 3 weeks to leave your system. They think, “if only the doctor would give me anti-biotics.” However, taking antibiotics for a virus is a big mistake. Not only will it not make a viral infection go away, but it is also bad for your body’s defense system. Most viral illnesses go away on their own through your natural immune system. Some viruses, such as the flu, can lead to a secondary bacterial infection like pneumonia. So it's important to have a medical visit if symptoms get worse or are prolonged.

EMA Care wishes you a healthy winter. If fever or cough persists for more than 3 days, see your doctor! Let the doctor decide if you need further testing to determine if your illness is a bacterial or viral infection.

EMA Care provides medical concierge, case management, and patient advocacy services to tourists, students, and Israel residents. You can reach us at 052 6398444 Schedule your free consultation today.



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