“Do I have a bacterial infection or a viral one?” Key differences to note​

If we’re not feeling good, We say that we’ve been affected by pathogens. In simple words, being ill causes sickness, fever, cough, sneezing, and fever, and for relief, we will take standard medicines.

We all make an incredibly grave error. We use medicines without knowing the type of disease we are suffering from, and in doing so, we increase our sensitivity to certain drugs which may not be effective in the near future.

This is why it is essential to know the type of disease we suffer from.

Bacterial and viral infections can have similar symptoms

“The viral and bacterial infections can have a similar presentation,” says Dr. Ajay Gupta, Director, Internal Medicine, Max Hospital, Vaishali. Signs like fever, cough, cold, and diarrhea are seen in viral and bacterial infections, he adds stressing on the similarity between the symptoms of both types of infection.

Nature of Infection

“Viral infections typically have an acute onset with a sudden and high fever. They are often short-lived, resolving in less than a week. If symptoms persist beyond a week, bacterial or secondary bacterial infection may be suspected. Bacterial infections tend to have a more insidious onset and may progress gradually. They can also lead to severe and prolonged symptoms,” explains Dr. Gupta. In the first three days of a fever, antibiotics are generally not required. If the fever subsides without antibiotic treatment during this period, it is more suggestive of a viral infection. If the fever persists beyond three days, and the patient develops secondary symptoms like breathlessness or shock, a bacterial infection should be suspected, necessitating immediate hospitalization and antibiotic therapy based on culture results, he adds.

Respiratory symptoms can vary

According to Dr. Gupta, viral infections commonly manifest as fever, cough, cold, and sometimes diarrhea and can lead to conditions like laryngitis, sinusitis, and bronchitis. “Bacterial infections, on the other hand, may lead to more severe respiratory issues like pneumonia, which can be differentiated through X-ray imaging showing dense and extensive lung involvement,” the expert adds.

Which one of these spreads is quicker?

Viral infections are more likely during epidemics in a given area, such as outbreaks of dengue or flu. If multiple individuals within a family or community experience similar symptoms simultaneously, it may indicate a viral infection, as bacterial infections typically do not spread in an epidemic fashion.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections

To treat bacterial infections, we need to take an antibiotic. Antibiotics prevent bacteria from growing and becoming a life-threatening condition. However, it’s important to seek guidance from a doctor instead of self-medication to avoid potential antibiotic resistance, recommends Dr. Sanjay Gogia, Director, Internal Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh.

“Viral infections must follow their course”

Regarding viral infection, the expert has a different suggestion. “Viral infections have to run their course. We can treat the symptoms of a viral infection with decongestants and over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, but they won’t actually treat the virus itself. It’s important to rest and drink fluids so that your immune system can do its job to clear the virus,” he explains. “Antiviral medication can help treat certain viral infections, but they are not widely available and the criteria to use them is very strict. Vaccines are now available for many viral diseases and they must be utilized wisely,” Dr. Gogia recommends. Sometimes a viral infection can lead to a bacterial infection if mucus buildup from a viral infection lingers for a prolonged period of time, which may require antibiotics, the expert adds.

The state is currently fighting the extremely contagious Nipah virus, the first case that occurred in the state of Texas in 2018. Two victims have died in the state. The outbreak earlier was deemed to be unnatural’. First time India experienced the Nipah virus outbreak was in the year 2018. On May 19, 2018 the Nipah virus (NiV) epidemic was discovered out of the Kozhikode district in Kerala, India, and within a short time, seventeen deaths as well as 18 cases were reported from Kerala.


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