An infection that we encounter in day to day life varies in many different aspects. The variation can be in the form of spread, susceptibility, virulence, progression, duration of the illness, signs and symptoms as well as in the treatment process. But, one of the main differences can be the type of organism which is causing the infection and mainly these could be either viral or bacterial.
Viruses are enormously small organisms that can be seen only through an electron microscope. The organism does to possess a cellular structure but would have nuclear material and will need a living host or a cell to reproduce and continue the lifecycle. Therefore, one important aspect of a virus would be its inability to live in the outside environment or else outside a living cell.
Bacteria on the other hand, consist of a single cell and could live on the outside environment even without the presence of a living organism. It possesses a cellular structure which contains many other systems apart from the nuclear material.
Usually, human body has many different bacteria living as commensals and does not cause any harm to the body nor it causes any infections. But, if viruses are to live in the human body, they needs to take control of certain type of cells and thus these cells will be damaged or proliferate abnormally in order to reproduce the viruses. Thus, the presence of viruses will invariably cause harm to the human body but this could be either symptomatic or asymptomatic.
A typical bacterial infection can cause localized pain and sometimes redness, swelling, warmth associated with the region on which the infection has taken place. But, in viral infections, the symptoms and signs would be most likely to be systemic and many different body systems can demonstrate various signs and symptoms such as cough, nasal congestion, runny nose, body aches, joint pains, fever…etc.
When considering the treatment, bacterial infections responds to the usual antibacterial medications and at times it would be possible for the clinicians to see if a particular organism is sensitive to the antibiotic that is been used. But, in the case of viruses, antibiotics would not be effective and in rare instances, antiviral medications are available with less than excellent results.
Usually, when a person contracts a bacterial infection, it will last for at least 7 days or else till such time an intervention is been done. But, most often the viral infections will run its own course and will settle spontaneously with the body immune system taking over the upper hand.
It should also be valuable to note that certain blood tests can be used to differential whether it is a viral infection or else is a bacterial infection. In a full blood count, the bacterial infections will be depicted by a high white cell count and an increase in the portion of nutrophils whereas the viral infections will show a rise in the lymphocyte count in proportion to the nutrophil count.
But, it should be remembered that, in many infections, the differentiation between bacterial and viral would not be possible and thus empirical treatment would have to be practiced in order to relieve the patient from the suffering.