Bacteria vs. Virus; What's the Difference?

November 24, 2015
Virus Vs Bacteria

Although they have many things in common, bacteria and viruses are about as different as whales and bumblebees. To better understand theses difference and how they affect our bodies, consider the following:
Both caused by microbes, bacterial and viral infections are usually contracted in similar ways, including:

  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Contact with infected people
  • Contact with food, water or contaminated surfaces
  • Contact with infected animals

Bacteria and viruses also tend to cause similar symptoms, such as sneezing, fever, inflammation, vomiting, fatigue, cramping and diarrhea. That said, the similarities typically end there.
Bacteria and viruses are quite dissimilar in numerous respects, mostly due to each's structure. Relatively complex, bacteria are single-celled creatures with rigid walls and a rubbery membrane enclosing fluid within a cell. Much tinier, viruses have a core of genetic material, surrounded by a protein coat. Unlike bacteria, viruses need a host to survive. Likewise, while bacteria can reproduce on their own, viruses must attach to a host cell to make copies.
While cell biology may not sound particularly compelling, it's an important factor in determining treatment. While many antibiotics effectively kill bacteria; they have no effect on viruses. Thankfully, many once-common viral infections have been eliminated or controlled with the help of vaccinations. That said, treating viral infections continues to prove challenging. While modern anti-viral medications have proved promising in the treatment of infections such as influenza, herpes simplex virus infections and HIV/AIDS, there is still a long way to go before modern medicine develops the ability to effectively cure most viral infections.
Seeking Treatment
Although they are quite different, bacteria and viruses both have the potential to cause serious illnesses. Fortunately, your doctor has a number of ways to determine what type of infection you have. With a proper diagnosis, he or she will be able to prescribe medications to either cure or alleviate many of your symptoms.

father and daughter hugging
The overall care I received was excellent! I also appreciate your affiliation with Yale New Haven Hospital.
Derby, CT
  • 5.0
  • 4.6