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How do viruses differ from bacteria?

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Viruses are tinier than bacteria. In fact, the largest virus is smaller than the smallest bacterium. All viruses have is a protein coat and a core of genetic material, either RNA or DNA. Unlike bacteria, viruses can't survive without a host. They can only reproduce by attaching themselves to cells. In most cases, they reprogram the cells to make new viruses until the cells burst and die. In other cases, they turn normal cells into malignant or cancerous cells.

Also unlike bacteria, most viruses do cause disease, and they're quite specific about the cells they attack. For example, certain viruses attack cells in the liver, respiratory system, or blood. In some cases, viruses target bacteria.

SOURCES:

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Understanding Microbes in Sickness and in Health.”

MicrobeWorld.org: “Virus or Bacterium?” “Viral vs. Bacterial Reproduction.”

Merck Manual Second Home Edition: “Bacterial Infections,” “Viral Infections.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar on April 23, 2019

SOURCES:

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: “Understanding Microbes in Sickness and in Health.”

MicrobeWorld.org: “Virus or Bacterium?” “Viral vs. Bacterial Reproduction.”

Merck Manual Second Home Edition: “Bacterial Infections,” “Viral Infections.”

Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar on April 23, 2019

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How can your doctor know the origin of bacterial and viral infections?

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