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Virus vs Bacteria: Symptoms and Treatment

​​The Differences Between a Virus and Bacterial Infection

We need to always differentiate between a virus and a bacteria that is causing the illness when you’re in clinic. If it’s a viral illness, typically symptoms are shorter lasting and classically the symptoms include fever, chills, sore throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, cough, and a lot of times you can have some body aches. A lot of times the symptoms last for maybe three days to a week and then slowly get better over time. Sometimes the cough can be persistent up to a month.

On the other hand if there’s a bacterial infection, a lot of times that can happen secondary to a virus, so sometimes you have viral symptoms at the onset and then over time then you develop a secondary infection. Sometimes that is a sinus infection so there’s more nasal congestion and headache. Sometimes that can be acute bronchitis which is irritation and inflammation of the chest and the lining of the lungs. Sometimes that can be an ear infection or strep throat, so a lot of times if somebody has symptoms of a viral illness will actually not have them come into the office and talk about some conservative measures you can do at home, but then if there’s ever any concerns of a bacterial infection, then we’ll have people come in the clinic for evaluation.

For viral illnesses there is a lot of things that you can do over the counter to help your symptoms. Unfortunately there is no medication that we can give that will speed your recovery, so mainly it’s making you feel better while your body’s fighting off the infection over about a week’s time. So some of the best things you can take over-the-counter are anti-inflammatory medicines, things like ibuprofen or Tylenol. What that does is it helps with body aches, fevers, chills, sore ​throat, and other aches and pains related to the illness. Other things that you can take are over-the-counter decongestants, something like Sudafed which is pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine which is in a lot of combination cough and cold medicines. What that does is help clear up the nose so helps with congestion of the nose and helps dry it out so there’s less runny nose. Other things that we will tell people to take, is over-the-counter guaifenesin which is Mucinex. It’s an expectorant which means it helps thin the secretions and loosen the cough. Sometimes antihistamines can help, sometimes not and then also for cough suppression, one of the best things that we recommend over the counter is dextromethorphan which brand name would be Delsym or Robitussin, they can help calm down the cough.

You’d call the clinic and usually talk to the nurses to see if you need to be evaluated and then based on what’s going on, based on your exam, we talk about whether you need antibiotics at that time. For a viral illness, unfortunately there is no medicine like an antibacterial or an antiviral medicine that will speed the recovery. We really just treat the symptoms, whereas if it’s a bacterial infection, that’s when we use antibiotics. We don’t use antibiotics for viral infections because it does not speed the recovery and we could be introducing you to side effects and problems related to the medicine.

  • How Germs are Spread? - Boys Town Pediatrics

    You can't see them but germs live everywhere. You can come into contact with germs at school, work, day care, and yes - even during play. These invisible creatures have the potential to turn into colds, flus, and other contagious infections, Viral and bacterial infections are spread the same way. When someone coughs or sneezes, contagious respiratory droplets are transported into the air and can be inhaled by someone over 3 feet away. Both viruses and bacteria can live on surf​aces such as desktops and door handles for more than 2 hour. These germs are spread when a person touches the contaminated area and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. 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, such as encouraging your child to wash his or her hands after meals 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, the grocery store, and other public places where he or she could spread the infection.

Cold and Flu;Illness and Injury Internal Medicine