Sleeping BabyThousands of different germs can cause our children to become sick. Some of these infections are viral, others are bacterial. What’s the difference?

Viruses are infectious agents that must enter a host cell to reproduce.  Once a virus enters the body, it inserts its genetic material into the host and is reproduced by its host’s cells.  Most viral infections are fairly benign and self-limited, but viral illnesses can make you feel terrible.

Examples of common viral illnesses include mononucleosis, influenza, bronchitis and the common cold. Some viral infections, like the AIDS virus or the herpes virus, cause severe or long-lasting symptoms and can be deadly. Viruses are often hard to detect with existing lab technology, and they do not respond to antibiotics. Only a few specific anti-viral drugs exist and often are not used in children.

Bacteria are single-celled germs that reproduce on their own. Bacterial infections can be fairly mild (like strep throat or some ear infections) or life threatening (like bacterial meningitis or septic shock). Bacteria generally respond to antibiotic treatment. More bacterial tests exist than do tests for viruses.

Virus or bacteria?
Symptoms are often the key to knowing which type of bug is infecting your child. Viruses usually cause diarrhea and vomiting. Cold symptoms are generally viral. Either a virus or bacteria may cause ear infections and pneumonia. Skin abscesses and urinary tract infections are almost always bacterial. At EPA, our job as pediatricians is to help you sort this out and decide whether antibiotics will help.

To determine which type of infection is making your child sick, and to find out what can be done to help her feel better, please contact us at Eugene Pediatrics. And see our previous posts on treating that cold or cough and how to ease the symptoms of your child’s virus.

We are here to help you, every step of the way.