Bacteria versus Viruses: Clearing the air about illness terminology


4th May 2020

When it comes to health and the description of its state thereof, many words are used to describe why the person is sick, what caused the illness, and whether its an ailment, sickness, infection, etc. In this article, we will be breaking down this terminology starting with some of the most common words used to describe what causes an illness.

Healthline describes an infection as the invasion of an organism's body tissues by a disease-causing agent. Google defines disease as a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant, especially one that produces specific symptoms or that affects a specific location and is not simply a direct result of physical injury. Basically, a disease is anything that causes parts of the body not to function as normal but is not directly caused by physical injury.

This can range from wound infections which occur when bacteria grow within the damaged skin of a wound to viral infections that can affect entire systems such as the influenza virus which attacks the respiratory tract made up of your nose, throat, and trachea (the tubes leading into your lungs). Speaking of bacteria and viruses, a common misconception is that they are the same and function in the same way, which is not true.

According to PassportHealth, bacteria (singular bacterium) are single-celled organisms that tend to be harmless and useful to humans. An example of such bacteria is the bacteria part of the human gastrointestinal microbiota or gut flora which helps us digest certain foods. Foods like yogurt are also produced using bacteria species, specifically Streptococcus thermophilus and Lactobacillus bulgaricus.

Not all bacteria are good however as some species of bacteria cause disease like strep throat and UTIs which would need antibiotics to treat. According to WebMD: "Antibiotics are medicines that help stop infections caused by bacteria. They do this by killing the bacteria or by keeping them from copying themselves or reproducing. They are ineffective at treating viral infections" Bacteria are however very adaptive and can mutate to survive against antibiotics, which is why new antibiotic medications are constantly in development (and why you should make sure you finish any course of antibiotics prescribed to you by your doctor). Bacteria also have the ability to survive outside of a host body

Compared to bacteria, viruses are incredibly small, the average human cell is about 10-15 micrometers (10┬Ám = 0.01mm), bacteria are 90% smaller than our cells but they are ten times bigger than viruses. Viruses are completely different from bacteria as they almost always cause disease and cannot survive outside of a host. Not all viruses are bad however as a review by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Florida noted some uses for viruses. Viruses can be combatted using weakened or inactivated versions of the virus injected into the body whereby the body will develop immunity against the virus otherwise known as vaccines. Immunity is defined by Google as the ability of an organism to resist a particular infection or toxin by the action of specific antibodies or sensitized white blood cells.

Not all vaccines are made using weakened or deactivated forms of viruses but vaccines for polio, measles, mumps, rotavirus, chickenpox, and rabies were made using these methods.

"Medicine is a science of experience, its objective is to eradicate diseases by means of remedies. The knowledge of the disease, the knowledge of remedies, and the knowledge of their employment constitute medicine." - Samuel Hahnemann

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