Viruses are genetic material (DNA/RNA) encased in a protein shell or capsule. They are much smaller than fungi and bacteria. Viruses are not complete cells and require living hosts to multiply. They normally invade your living normal cells and reprogram them so that they can replicate themselves and multiply within your body.
Some of the diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, chickenpox, smallpox, hepatitis, influenza, polio, dengue, herpes, rabies and HIV.
Causes: Viruses can spread from an infected mother to her newborn, across blood, saliva, coughing and sneezing, and through contaminated food and water.
Diagnosis: Viruses are usually diagnosed through blood tests (serologic studies), screening for the presence of antibodies, which your body normally produces in response to a viral infection, and culturing tissue specimens taken from the patient.
Prevention: The best way to prevent viral infection is to get vaccinated. Vaccinations contain a weakened form of a specific virus. These activate your immune system to produce antibodies against that specific virus.
Treatment: Viral infections are difficult to treat as viruses dwell inside your cells and are guarded from the medicines that move through your blood stream. Antiviral drugs are a class of medications used specifically for treating viral infections. Specific antivirals are used to treat specific viruses just like antibiotics are used to treat bacteria.
Bacteria are microorganisms that have only a single cell. They can survive in many different environments from boiling hot to freezing cold. Bacteria can be good or bad, and most of them do not normally cause any harm to our body. Our body normally maintains a healthy balance between the good and bad bacteria. It is home to millions of bacteria that live in our skin, mouth, intestines, and genitals.
Some of them, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, normally present in dairy products, are friendly bacteria that help prevent gastrointestinal infections. However, some bacteria can multiply very quickly in our body and release harmful chemicals, known as toxins, which can damage our tissues and cause diseases. Some of the harmful bacteria include Streptococcus (sore throat, skin infection, and urinary tract infections), Staphylococcus (pneumonia, food poisoning and blood poisoning) and Escherichia coli (nausea, vomiting, bloody diarrhea).
Some of the factors that can put you at a greater risk of contracting a bacterial infection include the following:
- Poor or compromised immune system: especially if you are on immunosuppressive medications
- Age: neonates and people above the age of 60 can be more susceptible to infections
- Nutritional status: malnourished people have a compromised immune system
- Genes: some people have a genetic predisposition to certain bacterial infections
Some of the common types of bacterial infections include
- Respiratory infections: upper and lower respiratory tract infection, middle ear, tuberculosis
- Gastrointestinal infections: infectious diarrhea caused by the bacteria, Salmonella, Shigella, Helicobacter pylori, Campylobacter jejuni and E coli
- Skin infections: impetigo (contagious blisters or sores), boils, cellulitis (skin inflammation) and complications of burns
- Healthcare associated infections: urinary tract infections, pneumonia, invasive blood stream infections and surgical wound infections
Some of the methods to diagnose bacterial infections include culturing (growing bacteria taken from any drainage or body fluids and identifying them under the microscope), serum protein electrophoresis (test to identify the presence of abnormal proteins) and susceptibility testing (sensitivity testing or testing for resistance to certain drugs).
Some bacterial infections like meningitis, tetanus and tuberculosis can be prevented with vaccines, which are inactive forms of the respective bacterium.
The conventional mainstay treatment for bacterial infection is with antibiotics. Antibiotics are chemicals derived from a bacteria’s natural defense mechanism used against other microorganisms. They may either kill the bacteria or stop the bacteria from multiplying.
A narrow-spectrum antibiotic is effective against few bacteria while a broad-spectrum antibiotic can be used to treat a wider range of infections. Antibiotics can also be given in advance to prevent an infection (before surgery), which is known as prophylactic use. However, antibiotics should be used judicially as bacteria have the ability to change and resist a particular antibiotic, necessitating a higher dose. A variety of antibiotics are available for a variety of infections, and your doctor will be the best person to diagnose your condition and prescribe you the necessary antibiotics.