You more than likely know the difference between a viral and bacterial infection; one is caused by a virus and the other by bacteria of course, right?

Well, yes, but that’s not all. In fact, though they are both small, they sure can cause a mighty reaction! As a provider in the Medical Group Walk-In, Kim Rutledge, ARNP-BC, sees plenty of illnesses and infections. You may even call her a detective when it comes to determining whether it’s a virus or bacteria and how to treat it!

To put it simply, a virus cannot survive without a host, whether it be a human, animal or other living thing. Once inside, the pests get to work mutating cells to duplicate the virus! These types of infections are often hard to treat, since antibiotics are for bacterial infections, and there are few medications available to battle them. If you’ve got a cold, bronchitis, influenza, chickenpox or fluid in your middle ear, chances are your illness is caused by a pesky virus and will need to run its course.

Bacteria, on the other hand, can thrive in many different conditions; hot, cold, you name it, no host required! While most of the time bacteria are harmless to us and even beneficial when it comes to things like digestion, they can also cause infections. Luckily, they can be treated with antibiotics. If you’ve got tuberculosis, whooping cough or a urinary tract infection, you can blame bacteria!

The trouble with both viral and bacterial infections is they can often show similar symptoms! And just because your snot is green or your throat is sore, don’t go jumping on the bacteria and antibiotic train just yet. When it comes to determining whether you have a virus or bacteria, leave it up to the medical professionals. Tests can be run to make sure they detect the right microorganism to blame so they can choose the right medication.

So what’s the big deal? Why not just give antibiotics regardless of whether it’s a virus or not? Well, using antibiotics inappropriately to treat viruses has helped create antibiotic-resistant infections. That’s right, you could get sick and antibiotics may not be able to treat it! That’s a scary thought, right?

If you are diagnosed with a viral infection that is unable to be treated with prescription medication, ask your provider what over the counter items you can take to relieve symptoms. And as with any infection, practice good hygiene to save others from your illness:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Get vaccinated for influenza, pneumonia and any other conditions to help prevent illness in the first place
  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay at home when ill
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Clean and disinfect hard surfaces and objects like toys that may spread germs

Next time you’re feeling under the weather, trust your primary care provider in whatever treatment they’ve prescribed. Unnecessary medications can cause more harm than good and your provider has your best interest at heart!