Consumer Health: What’s the difference between bacterial and viral infections?

a little white school aged girl asleep in bed, covered in a blanket with medicine on a side table nearby, perhaps because she's sick and not feeling well with a cold or fever

Many illnesses, including pneumoniameningitis and diarrhea, can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. In some cases, it may be difficult to determine which is causing your symptoms.

Bacteria are one-celled organisms that can be seen only with a microscope. Not all bacteria are harmful, and some bacteria that live in your body are helpful. However, many bacteria produce toxins that damage cells and make you ill. Other bacteria can directly invade and damage tissues.

Viruses are much smaller than cells. They are basically capsules that contain genetic material. To reproduce, viruses invade cells in your body, hijacking the machinery that makes cells work. Often, host cells are eventually destroyed during this process.

An important distinction between bacterial and viral infections is how they’re treated. Learn more from Dr. Pritish Tosh, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician. (.org)

  • 243
  • 0