Both viruses and bacteria cause different infections with similar symptoms.
Viruses and bacteria are microorganisms so tiny that they can be present on any surface.
However, there are important differences that make these microorganisms completely different from each other.
What is the difference between viruses and bacteria?
There are many differences between viruses and bacteria. First of all, bacteria are microorganisms made up of just one cell.
Bacteria are so diverse that some of them can survive perfectly in extreme conditions. For example, the bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacterium that grows comfortably in radiation.
Do not worry! Not all bacteria are dangerous to humans. In fact, some of them live quietly in our bodies and help us in our health.
For example, the intestinal microbiota, which is millions of bacteria that live in our intestines and defend us from really dangerous microorganisms.
In reality, very few bacteria are dangerous to humans.
In contrast, viruses are even tinier microorganisms. They are so small that they are only a particle of the genetic code of DNA or RNA, protected with a protein capsule.
One difference between the biology of viruses and bacteria is that while bacteria are independent cells, viruses need a living cell to survive and multiply.
Basically, they behave like a parasite for their existence, sometimes they can destroy the host cell as part of their life cycle.
What is the difference between the structure of viruses and bacteria?
Bacteria are single-celled, but each cell has its internal structure. Bacteria have a true cell wall, and inside them are the cytoplasm, bacterial genome, and ribosomes. You can look at the bacteria under a microscope.
Viruses are just genomes covered in a protein envelope known as a viral capsid. Viruses cannot be seen under a conventional microscope because of their tiny size.
Bacteria multiply by cell division. A stem cell copies its genome, divides, and forms two new daughter cells.
Viruses need a host cell to multiply. Viruses reprogram the host cell by introducing viral genetic information. The result is that the host cell begins to reproduce new viruses ready to infect other cells.
What is the difference between viral and bacterial infection symptoms?
Both bacterial infections and viral infections can have similar symptoms.
Many people believe that the green color of mucus appears when infections are bacterial, but this is incorrect.
In reality, the color of the mucus implies that the cells of the immune system are fighting some foreign agent to the body.
Green mucus occurs in viral, bacterial, and seasonal allergies. There is no need to take antibiotics yet.
Now, some characteristics can make you suspect a viral or bacterial infection.
For example, when an infection is bacterial, symptoms usually last for more than 10 to 14 days. Most viral infections only last a week or two.
Also, the symptoms of viral infections decrease over time. Symptoms of bacterial infections tend to get worse. Without prompt treatment, the infection can spread to the blood and cause a serious illness known as septicemia.
Fever is a common symptom of viral infections and bacterial infections. However, the fever of bacterial infections is usually much higher.
What is the difference between viral and bacterial infections?
Since the symptoms are so similar to each other, the main difference between viral and bacterial infections is the treatment of choice.
Viral infections are self-limited. The healthy immune system of a person with a viral infection is capable of eliminating viruses on its own. However, this process can take some time. For this reason, treatment consists of treating the symptoms that appear.
For example, if there is a fever or headache, paracetamol is indicated. For a sore throat, you can suck on a pain reliever pill. Also, you need to drink plenty of water and rest to let the body do its work on its own.
Now, in the case of bacterial infections, a little more help will be needed, antibiotics.
Antibiotics are medicines made to stop infections caused by bacteria. No antibiotic can cure viral infections. Conversely, taking antibiotics during viral infection can alter the well-being of the friendly bacteria in our body.
If your doctor prescribed antibiotic treatment, follow the treatment cycle to the end. Even if you feel better the first few days of treatment, the bacteria can still be in your body, but in smaller amounts and they no longer cause symptoms. However, they can multiply again, but this time the conventional antibiotic will no longer be enough to destroy them.
There are a lot of differences between viruses and bacteria. However, the best way to identify them is to go to your healthcare provider and perform the necessary tests for your problem.
- Bullock B, Benham MD. Bacterial Sepsis. [Updated 2020 Jun 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537054/
- Schweitzer JW, Justice NA. Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459215/