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Bacterial and Viral Infections

Diagnosis of Bacterial and Viral Infections

You should consult your doctor if you think you have a bacterial or viral infection. Exceptions include the common cold, which is usually not life-threatening.

In some cases, it's difficult to determine the origin of an infection because many ailments -- including pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea -- can be caused by either bacteria or viruses. But your doctor usually can pinpoint the cause by listening to your medical history and doing a physical exam.

If necessary, he or she also can order a blood or urine test to confirm a diagnosis, or a "culture test" of tissue to identify bacteria or viruses. Occasionally, a biopsy of affected tissue may be required.

 

Treatment of Bacterial and Viral Infections

The discovery of antibiotics for bacterial infections is considered one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history. Unfortunately, bacteria are very adaptable, and the overuse of antibiotics has made many of them resistant to antibiotics. This has created serious problems, especially in hospital settings.

Antibiotics are not effective against viruses, and many leading organizations now recommend against using antibiotics unless there is clear evidence of a bacterial infection.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, vaccines have been developed. Vaccines have drastically reduced the number of new cases of  viral diseases such as polio, measles, and chickenpox. In addition, vaccines can prevent such infections such as the flu, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and others.

But the treatment of viral infections has proved more challenging, primarily because viruses are relatively tiny and reproduce inside cells. For some viral diseases, such as herpes simplex virus infections, HIV/AIDS, and influenza, antiviral medications have become available. But the use of antiviral medications has been associated with the development of drug-resistant microbes.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 23, 2013
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