We all get sick from time to time - the symptoms may be unpleasant but these illnesses are often short lived and recoverable. Certain phrases that we use to refer to these illnesses are often ambiguous - we’ll say we have a ‘stomach bug’, ‘caught a cold’, ‘picked up something that’s going around’, ‘are feeling rundown’ or ‘dealing with an upset tummy’. However, it does help to know how these illnesses arise. It can help us avoid the infection or at least better deal with when sick. The main two culprits we need to understand are bacteria and viruses - both microorganisms, some types of which are classified as pathogens as they cause disease. The big difference between the two: you can take antibiotics to kill bacteria in most circumstances. For viruses, however, this won’t work.
Bacteria may get a bad rep but the truth is that it exists almost everywhere and only certain types are harmful. There’s bacteria in our intestines, on our skin, in our noses. There’s bacteria in the food we eat such as yogurt (known as cultures) and probiotic foods. Then there are bacterias that are harmful to humans. These bacterias can cause infections such as urinary tract infections, strep throat, salmonella and tuberculosis. Most bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, however, the use of antibiotics in ill-judged ways has caused some bacterial diseases that are resistant to certain antibiotics to develop.
These are pathogens that require living cells to survive. They use living hosts such as plants, animals, humans and even microorganisms like bacteria, where they attack cells and multiply. Viral diseases can range from ones where symptoms are minor to illnesses where patients need hospitalization, and those which can even be fatal. Common and well-known diseases caused by viruses include common colds, chickenpox, influenza and AIDS. Most infections from viruses can’t be stopped in their tracks the way antibiotics can kill harmful bacteria. Treatment usually focuses on alleviating the symptoms and waiting for the immune system to produce antibodies to fight off the virus. There are some medications that can help treat viral infections and vaccines can prevent you from contracting some viral diseases such as influenza and chickenpox almost completely.
If you think you have contracted a serious infection, whether due to bacteria or a virus, it’s important to seek medical care if symptoms seem serious. Both types of infections can cause acute, chronic and latent infections, ranging from mild to severe illnesses.
There are some illnesses and symptoms where it is hard to pinpoint whether their source is viral or bacterial. These included diarrhea, pneumonia and meningitis, which can be caused by either of the two pathogens. Your doctor can determine the cause by examining you, asking questions about your medical history or doing a blood or urine test.
Remember, both kinds of infections can spread through coughing, sneezing, physical contact with infected people or creatures or contaminated food, water and surfaces. So practicing good hygiene can help prevent the contraction of these diseases.
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