Bacterial vs Viral Infection: Know the Difference

Bacterial vs Viral Infection: Know the Difference
Admin Published : Oct 05, 2023 Last Updated : Jan 25, 2024

Are you experiencing coughing, fever, fatigue, sneezing, or diarrhea? If yes, then stay alert. These symptoms can be signs that your immune system is working hard to eliminate infectious organisms from your body that can make you sick.

If any of these tiny microbes attack your body, they might cause symptoms and lead to severe, moderate, or mild disease. But how you will come to know whether your illness is bacterial or viral? How they can be treated effectively?

Bacterial infections vs. Viral infections

You need to know that bacteria and viruses are microbes and too small to see without using a microscope. Be it bacterial infections or viral infections, both are responsible for causing illness in the human body.

However, bacterial and viral illnesses usually spread through:

  • Contact with infected pets, livestock, or insects like ticks or fleas
  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Intake of contaminated water or food
  • Intimate contact with infected people like sexual activity
  • Coming in contact with infected surfaces

What do you understand by bacteria?

This type of microbes are single-celled creatures that are present in nature and in human body as well. Most bacteria are harmless and important for digestion & various other physiological procedures.

Bacteria are capable of reproducing on their own and do not need any host to live.

Some common bacterial infections include:

  • Whooping cough
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Some ear, skin, or sinus infections
  • Strep throat
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Some sexually transmitted diseases

What do you mean by viruses?

When compared to bacteria, virus microbes are much smaller and cause symptomatic illness when they attack human body.

Without a host, a viral organism is not able to survive and reproduce by joining to cells.

Further, these cells reprogram viruses and allow them to make duplicate copies of themselves.

Some common viral infections are:

  • Rotavirus
  • Chickenpox and shingles
  • Covid-19
  • Influenza
  • Common cold
  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Hepatitis
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Some ear infections
  • Some ear infections
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Viral meningitis

How to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections?

Here are common differences between bacterial and viral infections that you must know:

Bacterial infection

Some key symptoms of bacterial infection include:

  • Signs which last more than 10-14 days
  • Fever that can become high exceptionally
  • Fever which gets worse with time instead of improving

Viral infection

Main symptoms of viral infection include:

  • Fever that eases with time
  • If due to influenza virus, symptoms start to respond well to antiviral medicines within 48 hours
  • Fever is uncomfortable but not dangerous

Bacterial vs viral infections: How to diagnose?

There are some infections that happen with a clear set of symptoms and simple to recognize & diagnose as bacterial or viral infections.

In cases like pneumonia, some ear infections, and meningitis, it becomes difficult to know whether infection is bacterial or viral.  

Although there are some signs in a complete blood count that can aid doctors in differentiating between bacterial and viral infections.

Usually, in bacterial infections, there will be an increase in white blood cell count.

While in viral infections, there is a decrease in white blood cell count known as leukopenia.

Along with patient’s symptoms and symptom severity, blood test results will be contemplated to make a diagnosis.

Additional tests might also be conducted like taking a tissue sample, or a sample of urine, stool, or nasal fluid.

Depending upon suspected infection, sample will be taken by your doctor.

However, for most part there are clear signs which aid doctors in making a clear distinction between bacterial and viral infections. 

Bacterial vs. viral infection: Know about its treatment

Treatment for bacteria and viruses is different due to which quick diagnosis is necessary.

Treating bacterial infections

Generally, doctors treat bacterial infections in patients with antibiotics.

It is necessary to match antibiotics with particular type of bacterial infection that you suffer from.

When right antibiotic is prescribed, it not only kills bacteria but also stops them from multiplying.

With time, antibiotic resistance has become a growing problem that is caused by overuse of antibiotics.

This is one major reason why doctor prescribes antibiotics only when they are sure that benefits of treatment are more than risks.

Treating viral infections

When it comes to viral infections, antibiotics are never effective. When suffering from a viral infection, doctors can prescribe following treatments:

  • Paracetamol to relieve fever
  • Rest at home to help your immune system fight against virus
  • Preventing infection in first place like vaccines for hepatitis and flu
  • Properly managing symptoms like having warm drinks or chicken soup to relieve your throat & staying hydrated

Averting viral reproduction by using antiviral medications like drugs for cold sores and HIV/AIDS

Therefore, if you want to prevent bacterial or viral infection then practice good hygiene, stay hydrated, and get vaccinated.