At first glance, the answer seems simple: a bacterial infection is caused by a bacterium, and a viral infection is rather caused by a virus. Sure, this is correct, but the following text will shed even more light on the subject.
The difference between a bacterium and a virus
Bacteria are living single-cell microorganisms that reproduce by division. Most bacteria can grow on non-living surfaces like kitchen counters or on phones. Not all bacteria are harmful - many are even essential to your health. When infectious bacteria contaminate the body, you can become sick. In addition, some infections, such as tuberculosis or streptococcal pharyngitis, are contagious; others, like urinary tract infections, are not.
Unlike bacteria, viruses need a host to reproduce. When a virus enters your body, it enters and takes control of certain cells so that they turn into a factory to produce new viruses. The virus can eventually kill those host cells. Some viral infections are mild, such as a common cold, while others, like HIV, are fatal.
Examples of diseases that can be caused by viruses or bacteria
The following table lists some examples of bacterial and viral infections:
Bacteria and viruses modes of transmission
Viruses and bacteria are spread in different ways. Transmission through the skin comes to mind, and both viruses and bacteria can be transmitted this way. Mosquito bites, animal bites, and infected syringes are more concrete examples of this mode of transmission.
Viruses and bacteria can also be transmitted through the respiratory mucosa. For example, colds and flu can be spread through contact with infected respiratory secretions.
Some infections can also be transmitted through food and enter the host's digestive mucous membranes.
Finally, some infections can be transmitted through sexual contact or directly through the blood.
How to fight viruses and bacteria
First, remember that many infections are mild and may resolve on their own with a healthy immune system. For example, the common cold virus will normally be resolved in a few days.
For more severe infections, there are medications. Antivirals can sometimes be used against aggressive viruses. We resort to antibiotics to fight bacteria, and when prescribed, they should be taken for the entire duration of treatment, even if the patient's condition improves. The inappropriate use of antibiotics has led to the emergence of treatment-resistant bacteria. That’s why it’s important to reserve them for infections that really need them. It is common for people to go to the doctor for an antibiotic to treat a viral infection. Antibiotics are unnecessary in this situation because antibiotics have no effect on viruses. In addition, these medications can unnecessarily expose the patient to undesirable effects, such as intestinal disorders.
How to prevent bacterial and viral infections
An individual with a healthy immune system is less likely to develop an infection. It’s therefore essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a healthy and varied diet, get lots of rest and avoid smoking.
Hand washing and respiratory hygiene are also good ways to prevent viral and respiratory infections.
When it comes to sexually transmitted infections, the safest prevention is to use condoms.
For infections that can be transmitted through food, proper food storage and cooking are also important measures.
Since insects can transmit some infections, preventing bites can prevent infection. A good insect repellent is therefore essential.
Lastly, several infections can be prevented by vaccination. Vaccination helps the immune system recognize the invader in order to be able to fight it off. Complying with a vaccination schedule is therefore an excellent way to protect yourself against several infections.
How do I know if my infection is bacterial or viral?
It is often difficult to determine the origin of an infection. However, the vast majority of common infections are caused by viruses and will resolve on their own within a few days. If symptoms persist, the infection may be more serious and medical attention may be needed. Don’t hesitate to consult a healthcare professional, such as your pharmacist, if you are concerned about your condition. They can give you advice to help you find some relief, or refer you to a doctor if they deem it necessary.