Macademics: Bacterial vs. Viral Infections

Hey everyone! Welcome to another installment of #Macademics. With all of the news going around about COVID-19 I thought it was important to talk about the differences between bacterial and viral infections. I'll go through their symptoms, how you can contract them, and give you some tips on how to treat/prevent them as well. Let's get started!

How about we start with some definitions.

Bacteria: This describes a single-celled microorganism that lives everywhere - in air, water, on your plants, etc. Most of the time bacteria aren't harmful (we have some in our intestines, fun fact). Microbes, the friendly bacteria, help digest our food and destroy diseases. But every once in a while they cause some issues. Think strep throat or urinary tract infections.

Virus: These microorganisms are smaller than bacteria and they need a living host to survive. They attach to our cells and program the cells they've invaded to reproduce more copies of itself. These can cause diseases. Think the common cold, AIDS, or chickenpox.

How do you contract them?

A lot of bacterial and viral infections are contagious, meaning you can spread them from close contact with other people. Kissing, sharing utensils/cups, exchanging bodily fluids, or coming in contact with a contaminated surface are all ways to spread these types of infections. Make sure if you or a loved one is sick that you're mindful of that and are taking care of your body.


The tricky thing when you get sick and you're trying to figure out the culprit is that the symptoms for both types of infection are similar. You could have a fever, muscle aches, cough, sore throat, etc. but it's important to note that how you treat them are different.


Bacterial infections are easier to fix because they can be treated with antibiotics. So if you've ever gotten these from a doctor it's because the cause of your sickness was bacterial and you probably were as good as new in about a week or so. You just want to be careful overusing them because bacteria can adapt and become resistant to them. For viruses, though, once you have a viral infection you just kind of have to wait them out. Typically they last about 7-10 days, but there are some medicines, for things like the common cold, that can help alleviate some of your symptoms. I know that there are plenty of family home remedies you've probably been taught too! The trick for virus is to prevent them before they can infect you. You can do this by getting vaccinated. There are a lot of vaccines available, flu shots, measles, HPV, hepatitis A and B, chickenpox, so be sure to double check your vaccine history (also vaccinate your children).

Other Preventative Measures

While vaccines and medications are helpful there are a few things you could supplement them with:

  • Practice good hygiene aka WASH YOUR HANDS

  • Practice safe sex

  • Make sure your food is cooked properly

  • Sanitize surfaces often

  • Be mindful of those that are sick around you

Now I am by no means telling you all to self-diagnosis. At the end of the day the only way to tell the difference between some of these infections is at the doctor's office with a culture, so make sure if you've been running a fever or had any other symptoms for an extended period of time that's the first place you go. These are just a few helpful tools to understanding these infections and their differences. With it being flu season be sure to take care of yourselves!

See you soon!

-The Chemist


Recent Posts

See All