Difference Between Bacterial and Viral Infections

Written by Pliro
Apr 17, 2017 Last updated: Apr 21, 2017

When we think of the term ‘infection’ it is important to specify what caused it. Bacterial infections and viral infections are two different things, and to mix up the two may cause health complications. Furthermore, both types of infections require different treatment. Let us identify how bacterial and viral infections differ from one another.


In biological terms, bacteria are complex single-celled microorganisms that have existed for 3.5 million years. They contain a fluid which is surrounded by a rubbery membrane. Bacteria manage to survive in a variety of different environments and temperatures. Most bacteria are not only harmless, but also beneficial for the body. Moreover, they help fight against diseases, provide vital nutrients and enable the smooth digestion of food. However, there are a few that may cause diseases if not treated in time. The infections that bacteria may cause include tuberculosis, urinary tract infections and strep throat. Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial infections, although some of the bacterial diseases are resistant to different types of medication, they are also given to prevent further attacks by different bacteria.


Viruses are much tinier than bacteria. They require living hosts to multiply in number, such as people, animals or plants. Viruses contain a protein covering and RNA or DNA in the center. While bacteria are mostly harmless. viruses mostly cause diseases. They spread by invading cell mechanisms in a way that new viruses are formed, causing the cells to die. Moreover, they turn fully functional cells into cancerous cells. They target cells in the blood, liver and respiratory system, as well as bacteria. Some of the diseases caused by viruses include flu and the common cold, AIDS and chickenpox.

Determining the Type of Infection

Blood or urine tests can be done to diagnose the nature of the infection. A ‘culture test’ may also be done, which identifies a bacterial or viral infection through tissue, usually requiring a biopsy of the affected tissue. Furthermore, physical examination determines the causes and medical history of the infection. Due to this, a visit to the doctor is essential for finding out about the type of infection. However, there are some cases where determining the infection type is not easy. These include pneumonia, diarrhea and meningitis.


The use of antibiotics is a major medical breakthrough in recent years that is favored as much as it is scorned. Antibiotics are eagerly prescribed by some doctors who believe that they are the best form of treatment for bacteria. This is because they are able to kill harmful bacteria or prevent them from multiplying in number. On the other hand, some doctors believe that many of these bacteria have become resistant to this form of medication. This poses a number of concerns.

Firstly, viruses remain unaffected by antibiotics. Therefore, diseases should only be treated by antibiotics on absolutely clarity of the nature of the infection. Secondly, numerous vaccines and antiviral medications have been developed. Contagious viral infections such as polio, chickenpox and measles have been reduced. Furthermore, flu, HPV and hepatitis A and B are also being prevented by the development of these medications. Home remedies are often also used for coughs or fevers, such as honey and turmeric water. The most important way to stop viral infections is to take steps from preventing them in the first place, rather than looking for treatments afterwards.
However, the fact still remains that viruses are extremely tiny and hard to detect when they reproduce inside cells. As a result, drug-resistant microbes have also developed to counteract the effects of antiviral medications.

In conclusion, we see that treating a cough cold or flu is fine without digging too deep about the nature of the infection. However, when infections become serious enough to make you visit the doctor, that is a whole other story. Being aware whether it is a viral or bacterial infection is paramount to treating it.