The Difference between Bacterial and Viral Infections

The Difference between Bacterial and Viral Infections


You’re coughing and sneezing; you have a fever, and your stomach is completely upset. With the fever, you’re pretty sure that you have an infection, but which one is it: bacterial or viral since both cause similar symptoms?


Knowing the difference between a viral and a bacterial infection is important for correct diagnosis and treatment, and to ensure that antibiotics aren’t used unnecessarily, thereby contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.


Viruses, bacteria and fungi are all microorganisms. Most microorganisms live harmlessly on, and inside our bodies, playing a vital role in human health. They outnumber human cells by 10 to 1!  Some microorganisms, called pathogens, cause illness and disease, so bacterial pathogens cause bacterial infections and viral pathogens cause viral infections. Fewer than 1% of bacteria cause diseases in people.

The table below indicates the main differences between viral and bacterial organisms as well as the treatment types should infection occur



How do you know if it’s a bacterial or viral infection?

Except for the common cold, which is usually not life-threatening, consult with your doctor if you think you have an infection. Some illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhoea can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, making them difficult to diagnose.  With a proper consultation, your doctor should be able to make a diagnosis. If not, blood and urine tests or a biopsy would need to be done.




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