Bacterial vs. Viral Infections

Many of us don’t have the time to be sick, so when we do feel under the weather, we want to get over it as soon as possible. However, treatments will differ depending on whether you are sick with a bacterial or viral infection. Bacterial and viral infections often start with the same symptoms, so it can be difficult to know what has caused your infection.

Bacterial Infections

The most common misconception about bacteria is that all bacteria is bad, when in reality, that’s not the case. In fact, we have many different types of bacteria living on and within our bodies, helping to ensure that our bodies are functioning properly. When sick with a bacterial infection, your doctor will often prescribe you with antibiotics which work by killing off the bad bacteria in order for you to feel better again.

However, many common types of bacteria that cause infections have started to become immune to the antibiotics used to treat the infection. For that reason, your doctor may hold off prescribing you antibiotics unless they consider it to be a serious bacterial infection. If that happens, your doctor believes that you’re own immune system will fight the infection.

Common bacterial infections

  • Whooping cough
  • School sores
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Ear infection
  • Sinus infection
  • Food poisoning

Viral Infections

Unlike bacterial infections, all viruses can generally be considered as bad, with some viruses causing diseases. Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, meaning that patients are often relying on their immune systems to fight off the infection. One way doctors minimise widespread viral infections is by immunisations, which administer the virus in tiny amounts so that your body can detect the infection earlier and begin working on fighting the virus. Sometimes, depending on the virus, if immunisations haven’t been administered and the patient comes down with an infection, antiviral medication can be used to treat the infection.

Common viral infections

  • Common cold and flu
  • Most coughs
  • Bronchitis
  • Chickenpox
  • Gastroenteritis (stomach bug)

How are infections spread?

Viral and bacterial infections are spread in a similar way through:

  • Coughing and sneezing
  • Contact with infected people
  • Contact with infected surfaces, food or water

When should you see a doctor?

Knowing when to simply rest and when it’s time to see a doctor can be tricky. Your doctor will assess your illness and treatment options in various ways but will usually ask these four questions.

  • Have you got a fever? Fevers are common in both viral and bacterial infections, so the doctor will use this question to assess how far along in your infection you are.
  • How long have you been sick for? An infection that seems to linger for longer than expected can often be a sign the infection has developed. Viral infections can turn into bacterial ones if your immune system can’t fight it off. If this happens your doctor may prescribe some antibiotics.
  • What colour is your mucus? The colour of your mucus is a very large indicator of what type of infection you have. If the mucus is green or yellow, it can be a sign of a bacterial infection but that doesn’t always mean you’ll need antibiotics.
  • What does your throat look like? Your doctor will look at your throat for any visible signs of infection, like white spots, or they’ll look to see if there’s any swelling.

Getting into the doctor when you’re sick can be a nightmare, that’s where Doctors on Demand can help. Doctors on Demand can help when you’re sick, can’t get into your regular doctor or can’t leave the house. Using the Doctors on Demand online service, patients can book an online consultation with an Australian registered doctor via their smartphone, laptop or tablet device. The Doctors on Demand service also allows patients to request a medical certificate and online prescriptions that can be sent to your local pharmacy for dispensing.

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