What is the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection?

In principle, the answer is simple: a bacterial infection is caused by a bacterium, and a viral infection is caused by a virus. However, this statement is a bit too simplistic as we also need to consider other differences between these two types of infections.

In principle, the answer is simple: a bacterial infection is caused by a bacterium, and a viral infection is caused by a virus. However, this statement is a bit too simplistic as we also need to consider other differences between these two types of infections.

Bacteria are single-celled “living” micro-organisms that reproduce themselves by dividing. Most bacteria can grow on non-living surfaces such as kitchen counters and telephones. But not all bacteria are harmful: many are actually essential to your health. When infectious bacteria contaminate the body, we can become sick. In addition, while certain infections, such as tuberculosis or streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat) are contagious, others, such as urinary infections, are not.

Contrary to bacteria, viruses are not “living” organisms but capsules that contain genetic material. They require a living host to be able to multiply, or they are unable to survive. When a virus enters your body, it penetrates certain cells, taking control of them and turning them into a factory to produce new viruses. Eventually, the virus can even kill the host cells. While certain viral infections such as HIV or influenza (the flu) are contagious, others are not.

The distinction between a viral infection and a bacterial infection is very important, as each medication targets a specific type of assailant. Hence, bacterial infections are treated with antibacterial antibiotics. While certain viral infections are treated with antiviral antibiotics, others are not, as most will clear on their own.

Even though taking antibiotics for a viral infection does not accelerate the recovery process in any way, it does involve all the risks of adverse effects associated with them. In addition, it contributes to the development of bacterial resistance, a menace to public health around the world. Viruses are responsible for the great majority of current infections such as the common cold, influenza and most cases of sore throats. Therefore, there is no need to run to your physician’s office when you experience these symptoms. When you are not sure if your particular case requires a medical consultation, contact Info-Santé. Nurses are available to help you with any questions or concerns you may have, any time of the day or night!

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