What causes distinguishing between bacterial and viral diseases difficult?
We are flooded with micro-organisms in our environment and even inside our body, some useful and some harmful. Both bacterial and viral infections can give rise to similar, vague symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, fatigue, and cramping. These symptoms occur as the immune system tries to get rid of the infectious organisms.
However, bacterial and viral diseases differ in certain aspects such as the structure of the microorganisms and their response to different medications. Thus, it is important to distinguish between the two kinds of infection, to ensure that the correct treatment is initiated.
Bacterial infectious diseases
Bacteria are commonly single-celled microorganisms which can thrive in various environments, like in extremes of cold or heat. Although the term ‘bacteria’ is usually associated with disease, most bacteria are harmless to humans. In fact, some bacteria are normally found in our gut, helping in digestion of food and producing certain vitamins.
When bacterial infections do occur, one of the commonest symptoms is high fever. Other symptoms depend on the system or organ being affected.
Bacterial infection in women
Common bacterial infections in women include those of the female reproductive system. One of them is bacterial vaginosis.
A bacterial infection of the vagina, bacterial vaginosis is more common in women with multiple sex partners, women who douche or smoke.
The symptoms of bacterial vaginosis includes:
- Smelly vaginal discharge (grayish white or yellow)
- "Fishy" smell, getting worse after sex
It is observed that no symptoms are noticed by about half of women who are suffering from bacterial vaginosis. For diagnosis, a pelvic examination is carried out by your gynecologist and a sample of the vaginal discharge tested.
Treatment of bacterial vaginosis:
- No treatment is needed in case of asymptomatic bacterial vaginosis.
- In case of presence of symptoms, antibiotics will be prescribed by your doctor which could be in the form of either oral tablets or a cream/gel to be applied locally in the vaginal area.
- Treatment should be continued for 5 to 7 days, as incomplete treatment can cause recurrence of infection.
Bacterial infection in blood
Bacteremia is a bacterial infection of the blood, and can be serious as any part of the body can be infected due to circulation of infected blood. This condition occurs in coordination with other serious infections like those affecting the heart valves, lungs, gallbladder, kidneys or bowel. A weak immune system can lead to blood infection, commonly affecting infants or older adults. A blood culture is done to diagnose bacteremia.
Most common bacterial blood infection is sepsis, which can present as rapid breathing and confusion. Other common warning signs include:
- High-grade fever or fever with chills
- Decreased passage of urine
- Rapid pulse
- Nausea and vomiting
What treats bacterial infections?
Bacterial infection treatment includes:
Usually, the treatment for bacterial infections includes antibiotics, which will either kill the bacteria or prevent them from multiplying. However, due to the growing incidence of antibiotic resistance, it is now considered wise to prescribe antibiotics only for serious bacterial infections.
What is a virus?
Viruses are very small microorganisms, made up of genetic material inside a protein coating.Viruses are like hijackers invading living, normal cells. They use these cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves (replication). This results in sickness due to killing, damaging, or modifying the healthy cells. Different viruses attack different body organs and systems.
Viral infection symptoms
Some of the symptoms caused by the viral infections include:
- Coughing and sneezing
What is the treatment for viral infections?
Viral infections may not always lead to disease as the body’s immune system may be able to fight it off. If needed, the treatment for viral infections includes:
- Management of general symptoms using honey or lozenges for coughs and warm fluids like chicken soup for oral hydration.
- Relieving fever by using paracetamol or similar drugs.
- Using antiviral medicines - this is aimed at reducing and stopping viral reproduction in infections such as HIV/AIDS.
- Using vaccinations for flu and hepatitis as a preventive step against infection in the first place.
Disclaimer: The information in the article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor.