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Virus vs. Bacteria

By Heather L. Zimmerman, M.D.

Virus vs. Bacteria image

Viruses, like the common cold or influenza are not alive and must invade living cells to grow. The body’s own immune system must fight off the virus or let it run ​its course. Viral infections are usually accompanied by multiple symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose, congestion, vomiting and diarrhea.

Bacteria are living organisms and can be found everywhere. There are times when the body’s immune system may not be able to fight off a bacterial infection. Antibiotics work to kill the bacteria by stopping its growth. Bacterial infections often go together with pain, aches, or sore areas of the body.

Both viral and bacterial infections are spread the same way:

  • Sneezing/coughing
  • Shaking hands
  • Touching food with dirty hands
  • Contact with body fluids such as blood and saliva

There is really no way to prevent your child from coming in contact with germs, but there are steps you can take to help prevent them from spreading. Encourage your child to wash his or her hands after meals and snacks and playing with toys. Hand sanitizers are just as effective as soap and water. If your child is sick, keep him or her home from daycare, school, grocery stores and other public places.

A thorough examination by your child’s doctor will be helpful in distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections.

Contact your child’s physician anytime you have questions about your child’s health.​