What is the difference between a viral and bacterial infection?

Janet Smith, CNP explains the difference between a viral and bacterial infection. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.


A virus is a tiny capsule with genetic material inside, and it can cause infectious diseases including colds, the flu and warts, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

A virus wants to invade normal, living cells and use them to produce other viruses, according to the NIH.

Viral infections are hard to treat because viruses live inside the body’s cells and protect themselves from medicine, according to the NIH. Antibiotics do not work on viral infections.

That is the biggest difference between viral infections and bacterial infections. As opposed to viral infections, antibiotics are typically used to treat bacterial infections, according to the NIH.

Bacteria are one-celled organisms. Many types of bacteria are useful to us in digesting food, destroying disease-causing cells, and giving the body vitamins, according to the NIH.

But, the infectious types of bacteria reproduce quickly in the body and make people sick. Bacterial infections include E. coli, streptococcus (strep) and staphylococcus (staph), according to the NIH.

For more information about the difference between bacterial infections and viral infections, talk with your physician.

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