Bacterial versus Viral Infections – How to tell the difference, and get the right treatment

Bacterial versus Viral Infections – How to tell the difference, and get the right treatment

With so many types of infections making the rounds, it can be hard to determine the right way to address an ailment. Infections are either bacterial or viral; bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, while viral infections are caused by viruses. That’s the easy part; differentiating between the two requires medical attention because¬†they have similar symptoms, although their treatment options vary significantly.

Common viral infections such as an upper respiratory infection can typically be detected by a runny nose, cough, low-grade fever, sore throat, and difficulty sleeping. Antibiotics cannot aid or speed recovery. Influenza is a viral illness that can cause many of the same symptoms but also is frequently accompanied by intense body aches and higher fever. Unlike upper respiratory infections, the flu’s duration — if detected within the first 48 hours of illness — can be shortened by antiviral medication.

Bacterial infections can develop as a secondary infection (that is a virus initiated the process but a bacteria followed) when :

  • Symptoms persist for extended time
  • Fever is high and gets worse after a few days

Sinusitis, ear infections, urinary tract infections and pneumonias are common examples of secondary infections that can often be treated with an antibiotic or other medicines.

Serious bacterial illnesses like sepsis (bacteria in the blood) and bacterial meningitis (bacterial infection in the lining of the brain and spinal cord) require extensive treatment. Many childhood vaccines are meant to prevent these serious bacterial infections.

Medical tests can help with the diagnosis of a bacterial infection, including blood tests and other cultures, such as a urine culture or even possibly a spinal tap.

Infections, whether they are caused by virus or bacteria, require close monitoring. If any of these signs occur, seek medical attention:

  • Dehydration, demonstrated by decreased fluid intake; urination less than

three times in 24 hours; or decreased tears with crying

  • A change in breathing that could be fast breathing, nostril flaring, use of rib,

stomach, or neck muscles to breathe and other types of labored breathing.

  • A noticeable decrease in activity or responsiveness
  • No improvement over a three – to five-day period
  • All children under three months of age with a fever

The team at Springfield Urgent Care can help eliminate the guesswork and put you on the path to recovery. Contact Us