Both bacteria and viruses are so small that they can only be seen through a microscope, and both have the ability to cause infection, but that’s where the similarities end.
Bacteria are one-celled organisms that can be found naturally throughout our bodies and in our environment. Most are harmless and do not cause infection. Bacteria in our bodies help us to digest food, protect us against other bacteria or microbes, and provide nutrients for our body. Seen under a microscope they look like rods, balls, or spirals, and they can multiply quickly under the right conditions. Less than one percent of bacteria actually make us sick. Infections caused by bacteria include strep throat, tuberculosis, and urinary tract infections (UTI).
Antibiotics are available to treat most bacterial infections; however, it is often best to let your body’s own immune system fight them if it is able to.
Viruses on the other hand, cannot live without a host, or another living creature to help them multiply. Viruses are smaller than bacteria and they attach themselves to another living cell and use that cells’ genetic material to reproduce themselves. Most viruses cause disease. Examples of diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, herpes, shingles, measles, chickenpox and AIDS.
Antibiotics will not treat a viral infection. Viral infections require either vaccinations to prevent them in the first place or antiviral drugs inhibit their development.
A new virus called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has been identified as the cause of a disease outbreak that began in China in 2019. The disease is called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
The virus is a type of coronavirus — a family of viruses that can cause illnesses such as the common cold, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in a growing number of countries, including the U.S. WHO declared a global pandemic in March 2020. Public health groups, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are monitoring the situation and posting updates, treatment and prevention recommendations on their websites.
Many bacterial infections are contagious, meaning that they can be spread from person to person. There are many ways this can occur, including:
In addition to spreading from person to person, bacterial infections can also be spread through the bite of an infected insect. Additionally, consuming contaminated food or water can also lead to infection.
Some examples of bacterial infections include:
Like bacterial infections, many viral infections are also contagious. They can be spread from person to person in many of the same ways, including:
Also, similarly to bacterial infections, viral infections can be spread by the bite of an infected insect or through consuming food or water that has been contaminated.
Some examples of viral infections include: