Viruses and bacteria often cause the same symptoms in people such as cough and fever. Because of this, many assume that they are very similar to each other, and yet they differ greatly. It is important for people to understand the differences between viruses and bacteria so that they understand the treatment of conditions related to them.
Bacteria are unquestionably living organisms. They are single-celled and exist in various environments. Their shapes vary. They may live in extreme temperatures, and some live within the human body. You may think that all are harmful, but in truth many provide positive functions. For instance, some live in the intestines and help you digest the food you eat.
Viruses are an entirely different matter altogether. Whether they are even alive is up for debate, and they are generally not considered alive. They are parasites and cannot live on their own. They contain genetic material in the form of DNA or RNA and have a coat of protein surrounding them to provide protection. They must be in a living host in order to survive and reproduce (bacteria can reproduce on their own by dividing). When a virus finds a host, it will get inside some of the cells and use them to reproduce. Although bacteria are small, viruses are even smaller.
A very important distinction between viruses and bacteria is their reaction to antibiotics. Many bacteria are affected by antibiotics thus if a physician determines that you have a bacterial infection he or she will often choose to treat it with an antibiotic such as Amoxicillin. Antibiotics do not affect viruses, however. You may want your physician to prescribe them any time you have a cold, but they will do nothing if you have a virus. It is important not to overuse antibiotics since many different types of bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.
Even without antibiotics, there are still things that can be done to protect against viruses. One of the most common and effective ways in through the use of vaccines. A small amount of dead or weakened virus is given to the person in an injection, nasal spray, oral solution or another method. This will help the person create their own protection against it.
Once an individual already has a virus, they may be helped with antiviral agents that hamper the reproduction of the virus. These can modestly help with the severity of symptoms, but do not work with many viruses.
Virus and bacteria cause many different conditions. Viruses typically cause the common cold and conditions such as HIV. Some conditions can have either bacteria or a virus as the cause, such as pneumonia and meningitis. How they are treated will depend on the cause.
Another similarity is the way that bacteria and viruses are spread. Although it depends on the particular type, many are spread through coughing, sneezing, touching someone who is infected, touching food that is compromised and through shared body fluids.
Viruses and bacteria are very different. Scientists continue to study them to find out ways to protect humans, plants and animals from their ill effects. Bacteria and viruses change as time goes on, thus it is important to keep updated on mutations as they occur.