There is a difference between bacterial and viral infections

Nikki Sommer, a nurse with Key West Surgical Group, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5 FM for Medical Matters yesterday morning.

Bacterial and viral infections are quite different.

Sommer said, “It hits all systems in the body and right now we’re kind of high into flu season and COVID is still rearing its ugly head. So bacteria and viruses, they kind of present themselves with the same symptoms. However, their mode of incubation is a little bit different. So bacteria, they’re kind of like single cells that can survive inside or outside the body. We have a lot of bacteria on our skin that our body fights against on a regular basis. So sometimes, it can’t and it’ll rear its ugly head and we’ll end up with a bacterial infection. Viruses, even though you will start with what you think is a common cold and can progress into something different, viruses actually need a host. So they need either a human or an animal to carry it and then it multiplies within the body. Their mode of transmission is a little bit different, how they start, but their symptoms can present the same way and then that’s when you need to think about is this a virus? Is it just a cold and will it go away? Or is it something more serious, like pneumonia or strep throat? The common bacterial infections, probably from bacterial food poisoning, strep throat, urinary tract infection, STDs, don’t forget them. There are bacterial infections. HIV is a virus. Gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia, those are bacterial infections.”

There are two types of meningitis.

Sommer said, “It’s bacterial and viral. Bacterial meningitis is the more serious one, because that actually can affect the brain. Viral meningitis usually you can recover, the body will fight off the infection. Cellulitis are the like skin infections that you get little pimples that blow up and if you keep messing with them, they can become a more serious infection. Lyme Disease and tetanus which as long as you have a tetanus shot, you should not get tetanus.”

Viruses include the common cold, COVID-19, influenza, chickenpox, measles, hepatitis, West Nile virus. How do doctors diagnose the different infections?

Sommer said, “A lot of times when you go in and you present your symptoms, the first thing they’ll do like if you’re complaining of a sore throat, runny nose, a lot of times they’ll do a physical exam and if your throat is red, they will probably do like a strep test. If you’re having urinary symptoms, they will check your urine. If that comes out negative then it most likely is a virus and the only thing you could do is just treat the symptoms with over the counter medications, Tylenol, ibuprofen, some over the counter decongestants, throat lozenges. Drinking lots of lots of fluids. Preventing dehydration is really important, whether it’s any illness, bacterial or viral. Staying hydrated is also a key to a quicker recovery.”

Some viruses can be affected by antiviral medication.

Sommer said, “That is the flu, influenza. You can be prescribed Tamiflu, and there is a new one out that I think it’s a one dose medication, if I remember correctly. And then Valtrex for if you have shingles, or if you are prone to Herpes Simplex one and two which is cold sores and or genital herpes.”

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections.

Sommer said, “If you’re diagnosed obviously with a bacterial infection, the most important thing you do is take the antibiotics as prescribed. Do not stop them because you feel better. People tend to do this a lot because they start to feel better, they’re like, oh, I don’t need to finish the antibiotics. But that’s how we end up in trouble where it has suppressed the bacteria in your body, but it hasn’t killed it off because you haven’t finished the full course of treatment. Then that’s how we get resistance to certain bugs where that antibiotic will not be good for that anymore.”

Secondary bacterial infections can also tend to follow a cold.

Sommer said, “It’s your immune system. That’s what’s going on. So it might start as the common cold, and then progress into something else and a lot of times it’s you just not resting enough or your body’s just rundown, stress, all the factors of life, it can turn into a secondary bacterial infection, like an ear infection, pneumonia, or sinus infection. So, you’ve got to careful not to ignore the symptoms, either, because usually a bacterial infection will develop. Obviously, if the symptoms are lasting longer than 10 to 14 days, they’re getting worse than better and you spike a fever and your fever is getting higher or it’s persistent and not going away.”

Some people think the mucus will tell the tale of bacterial or viral infection.

Sommer said, “I hear it all the time. I have green phlegm. My kids, I have green mucus, it’s green. Green doesn’t always mean infection. It’s your immune system trying it’s trying to fight off the infection. So it doesn’t necessarily mean something really awful is going on. It’s common to have discolored mucus, whether it’s green or yellow. Usually, if there’s an odor to it, like a nasty, pungent odor to it, that could mean it’s a bacterial infection. But if it’s just, occasional green or what have you, it’s just your body doing its thing to try and get rid of whatever bacteria or viral process that’s going on in your body.”

Preventing the spread of disease is critical.

Sommer said, “Washing your hands. Wash, wash, wash. It does make a difference, especially after you go to the bathroom, before and after you’re going to touch food, before you’re going to eat. Avoid touching your face, rubbing your eyes, touching your face with dirty hands. Of course, vaccinate for those certain things that we can get vaccinated for. Flu and COVID. I know people are back and forth about the COVID vaccine. I get it. It’s new, but the flu has been around for a long time. So I highly recommend getting the flu shot.”