While viral vs bacterial infections can both cause mild to serious infections, they are different from each other. This is important to understand, because bacterial and viral infections must be treated differently. Misusing antibiotics to treat viral infections contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Viral vs Bacterial Infections Differences

As you might think, bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, and viral infections are caused by viruses. Perhaps the most important distinction between Viral vs Bacterial is that antibiotic drugs usually can kill bacteria, but they aren’t effective against viruses.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms that thrive in many different types of environments. Some varieties live in extremes of cold or heat. Others make their home in people’s intestines, where they help digest food. Most bacteria cause no harm to people, but there are exceptions.

What are common bacterial infections?

Some examples of bacterial infections include:

  • strep throat
  • urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • bacterial food poisoning
  • gonorrhea
  • tuberculosis
  • bacterial meningitis
  • cellulitis
  • Lyme disease
  • tetanus

Viral Infections

Common viral infections such as an upper respiratory infection can typically be detected by runny nose, cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, and difficulty sleeping. No antibiotics or anti-viral medications can hasten recovery from the cold.

Influenza is a viral illness that can cause many of the same symptoms but also is frequently accompanied by intense body aches and higher fever. Unlike URIs, the flu’s duration — if detected within the first 24 hours of illness — can be shortened by antiviral medication.

A dose of flu vaccine (or two doses a month apart in the young child receiving flu vaccine for the first time) given at the start of each “flu season” can help to prevent influenza infections.

What are common viral infections?

  • influenza
  • common cold
  • viral gastroenteritis
  • chickenpox
  • measles
  • viral meningitis
  • warts
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • viral hepatitis
  • Zika virus
  • West Nile virus

Treatment of Viral vs Bacterial Infections

  • Bacterial infection treatment: Doctors usually treat bacterial infections with antibiotics. They either kill bacteria or stop them multiplying.
  • The treatment of viral infections can include:
    • managing symptoms, such as honey for coughs and warm fluids like chicken soup for oral hydration
    • acetaminophen to relieve fever
    • stopping viral reproduction using antiviral medicines, such as medicines for HIV/AIDS and cold sores
    • preventing infection in the first place, such as vaccines for flu and hepatitis

Bacterial or Viral – How Do You Know?

For the most part, only your medical provider/ doctor can tell for sure whether your illness is bacterial or viral. Some diseases like meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhea can be caused by either. Don’t assume you know the cause of your illness until your doctor can verify it.

Knowing whether your illness is caused by viral vs bacterial will tell your health care provider how to treat it. Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections; they have no impact on viruses.  There are now antiviral medications on the market that can treat some viral infections. For most viruses, however, treatment consists of care to make the patient more comfortable and ease symptoms (like reducing fever).

How to prevent infections?

You can follow the tips below to help prevent becoming ill with a bacterial or viral infection:

  • Practice good hygiene: Be sure to wash your hands before eating, after using the bathroom, and before and after handling food. Avoid touching your face, mouth, or nose if your hands aren’t clean. Don’t share personal items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, or toothbrushes.
  • Get vaccinated: A multitude of vaccines are available to help prevent various viral and bacterial illnesses.
  • Don’t go out if you’re sick:  Stay home if you’re ill to help prevent spreading your infection. If you must go out, wash your hands frequently and sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow or into a tissue. Be sure to properly dispose of any used tissues.
  • Practice safe sex: Using condoms can help prevent getting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Limiting your number of sexual partners has been shown to reduce your risk of getting an STD.
  • Make sure that food is cooked thoroughly:  Make sure all meats are cooked to the proper temperature. Be sure to thoroughly wash any raw fruits or vegetables before eating. Don’t let leftover food items sit at room temperature. Instead, refrigerate them promptly.
  • Protect against bug bites: Be sure to use insect repellent containing ingredients such as DEET or picaridin if you’re going to be outside where insects such as mosquitoes and ticks are prevalent. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, if possible.

Urgent Care Omaha Walk-In Clinics and Bellevue, NE | Strep Throat Treatment

Our staff works to provide prompt, personal, and professional care for all of our patients. We strive to provide the attention patients need in as quick a time as possible. Urgent Care Clinics in Omaha & Bellevue, Nebraska has three locations in the Omaha metropolitan area. Our three walk-in clinics are:

The information contained on this webpage is for educational purposes as well as to provide general information and general understanding of the pertinent medical issue only, not to provide a specific diagnosis. This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. By using this blog/web site you understand there is no doctor patient relationship between you and the blog/web site publisher. The information included on this site should not be used as a substitute for medical advice from a licensed medical professional in your state. Neither Urgent Care Network, its subsidiaries, affiliates, assignees or successors in interest, nor any other party assume liability for loss or damage due to reliance on content of this blog/web site. If you are experiencing a severe medical issue, you should seek emergency assistance immediately.


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