Healthy Living

Virus vs. Bacteria

February 28, 2018

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Is it Pneumonia or a cold? How do you know if your child needs antibiotics or an over-the-counter cold medication? What is the difference between the two and how do they affect our little ones’ bodies? Understanding what causes a viral or bacterial infection will help parents know when it’s important to seek treatment for themselves or their children.

Bacteria live everywhere in our environment-the air, our water, even the dirt. It also lives on our skin and within our bodies, sometimes helping digest our food and maybe even killing off other diseases.  In many cases, bacteria can be harmless, however, when it does make us sick, the best course of action is a course of antibiotics. Some bacterial infections include strep throat, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections (UTI). Be warned, when taking antibiotics for these infections, it is important to follow the directions closely. Any overuse of antibiotics can make your children’s bodies become resistant to treatment.

Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and need to live within our bodies to survive. Viruses do cause illnesses like the common cold, and Gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”). Viral infections either require a vaccine to keep them away or rarely an antiviral drug to treat them. Most viral infections go away with time, with the use of over-the-counter medicine or treatment to help with relief from symptoms like fever, sore throat or a cough.

“Both viral and bacterial infections can be spread through coughing and sneezing, contact with other sick people, or contaminated food and water,” said Opher Nadler, MD, Medical Director Randall Children’s Hospital Emergency Department. “What’s tricky is how similar symptoms can look and how some illnesses can be caused by either one.”

Doctors at Randall Children’s Hospital are highly trained to identify and treat pediatric illnesses based on symptoms, exams, history and any additional tests that may be needed. So, if your child has been sick for a long period of time or their symptoms continue to get worse, get them to urgent care or the children’s emergency department immediately for evaluation.

Virus vs. Bacteria

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