Viral and Bacterial Infections


Diagnosis is considered one of the most critical processes of delivering quality healthcare. Improved diagnostics for acute infections such as bacterial and viral infections is necessary for efforts of reducing morbidity and mortality rates across the globe. Undeniably, accurate diagnosis allows for precise use of antimicrobial agents through early admission of antibiotics for bacterial infections while reducing cases of unnecessary antibiotic prescription to patients without bacterial infections.  Research indicates the mortality rates associated with bacterial sepsis increases by at least eight percent each hour when the antibiotics are delayed (Sweeney, Wong, & Khatri, 2016). On the other hand, indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics to all patents increases morbidity rates in addition to antimicrobial resistance in the event antibiotics are administered to patients who do not have bacterial infections. It is, therefore, necessary for healthcare providers to be able to differentiate between bacterial and viral infections to facilitate the effective administration of antimicrobial agents and subsequently reduce morbidity and mortality rates among other healthcare outcomes.

Categories of Antimicrobial Agents

Antimicrobial agents describe chemicals, drugs or any other substance that is often applied in killing or slowing microbial growth but they do not affect the host. Antimicrobial agents are fundamentally utilized in veterinary and human medicine in the treatment, prevention, and control of different fungal, viral and bacterial diseases (Dehghan, Bozorgmehr, Hajjari, & Shombolestani, 2017).  Antimicrobial agents are classified into different categories including biostatic and microbiocidal. Biostatic antimicrobial agents are those that impede microbe growth while microbiocidal agents are those that kill the microorganisms (Dehghan, Bozorgmehr, Hajjari, & Shombolestani, 2017).

Further classification of antimicrobial agents encompasses antibiotics, semisynthetic and synthetics. The antibiotics, which are commonly referred to as antibacterial, such as penicillin are utilized in the treatment and prevention of bacterial infections. Antibiotics prevent and treat bacterial infections by using one organism to counter the other through slowing or killing the growth of the bacteria. While some antibiotics can be applied in curbing some fungal and protozoans’ infections, they are mostly ineffective in treating, preventing and controlling viruses (Schafer & Foy).  The synthetic antimicrobial agents, on the other hand, describe the chemically manufactured drugs. Examples of synthetic antimicrobial agents include anti-viral, anti-malaria, anti-cancer, anti-tuberculosis and anti-fungal among others (Dehghan, Bozorgmehr, Hajjari, & Shombolestani, 2017). The semisynthetic antimicrobial agents include the antibiotics that have been exposed to artificial chemical modification. The semisynthetic antimicrobial agents are the most applied type of antimicrobial agents.  They include but are not limited to amoxicillin and methicillin.

Differences between Viral and Bacterial Infections

Bacterial and viral infections have many similarities including the fact that both diseases are caused by microbes bacteria and viruses, respectively.  Additionally, both infections have similar symptoms including but not limited to coughing and sneezing, fever, inflammation, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and cramping (Gelone, Pacetti, Donnel, Arcangelo, Wilbur, & Reinhold, 2017). However, the two infections are dissimilar in many ways fundamentally due to the organism’s structural differences and the ways that the infections react to different medications. The primary difference between bacterial and viral infections is the fact that viruses require a living host whether a plant or an animal to multiply while most bacteria can exist on non-living surfaces.  Thus it suffices to say bacteria can reproduce independently and have the ability to survive in different environments such as radioactive waste and the human body. Viruses, on the other hand, cannot survive without a host and can only reproduce upon attaching themselves to living cells (Gelone, Pacetti, Donnel, Arcangelo, Wilbur, & Reinhold, 2017).

Additionally, research indicates that some bacteria are harmless and some are considered critical to the body since they facilitate digestion of food, destroying of the disease-causing microbes and providing other essential nutrients in the body (Schafer & Foy). However, unlike bacteria, most viruses cause diseases and are often specified on the cells they attack. For instance, certain viruses attack the respiratory system or the level among other parts and organ of the body.  Moreover, it is crucial to acknowledge antibiotics are only useful in treating bacterial infections and ineffective in handling viral infections (Montaner et al., 2014). It is vital for healthcare providers to dedicate resources to differentiating the two diseases to prevent the problem of resistance which may result in devastating consequences in the hospital settings.

Why the identification of Viral and Bacterial Infection Important in Selecting the Proper Antimicrobial Agent

The proper and accurate identification of the viral or bacterial infection is crucial to the selection of a suitable antimicrobial agent in efforts of avoiding drug resistance of the microorganisms which causes the diseases.  It is important to acknowledge the effective management of an ailment whether bacterial or viral to no small extent depends on the determination of the real cause of the illness.  Undeniably, different disease-causing micro-organisms have diverse characteristics which require specific treatment techniques; therefore it is necessary to distinguish between the viral and bacterial infections (Sweeney, Wong, & Khatri, 2016).  It is crucial not only to differentiate between viral and bacterial ailment but also to identify the specific microbe causing the infection.

The determination of the most appropriate antimicrobial agent is often supported by extensive knowledge of susceptibility of organisms to specific agents, infection site, organism identity, and agent’s safety.  It is crucial to note that the treatment of diseases associated with viruses tends to differ from those caused by bacteria.  Undeniably, detection of a viral infection implies that the medical practitioner will not utilize antibiotics in the treatment of the disease because the medicines will not be sufficient. The improper use of antibiotics, for instance, applying them in the treatment of common cold that is caused by viruses encourages the development of a resistant strain which makes the treatment of both bacterial and viral infections difficult (Sweeney, Wong, & Khatri, 2016).  Indeed, the incorrect identification of viral or bacterial disease encourages mutation which would necessitate the application of stronger medical formulas in efforts of effectively handling a particular condition.  It is unfortunate that patients with viral infections such as sore throat are usually prescribed antibiotics a factor that has encouraged the excess utilization of antibiotics.

Differentiating between viral and bacterial infections is the initial stage of the diagnosis process. Most viral and bacterial infections often have similar characteristics; therefore, distinguishing between the two is often considered a breakthrough in efforts of delivering quality healthcare. Apart from preventing the misuse of antibiotics, it is vital to detect viral and bacterial infections to motivate patients to complete their prescribed dosage. Failure to distinguish the two infections makes it difficult for patients to comprehend the importance of achieving the prescribed dosage. Many cases have been reported where healthcare practitioners have treated viral infections using antibiotics. Indeed, research indicates that more than seventy percent of patients with viral infections such as common cold and sore throat are often given antibiotics (Sweeney, Wong, & Khatri, 2016). However, antibiotics such as azithromycin are ineffective in treating a sore throat. Therefore, in the event the drug is administered, the patient is likely to be discouraged from completing the dosage since there are no apparent results of improvements in their health. Therefore, it is vital for healthcare providers to dedicate resources to differentiating between viral and bacterial infections to uphold the integrity of health care and their obligation to reduce the burden of the disease.


In efforts of improving healthcare outcomes such as a decrease in morbidity and mortality, it is essential for healthcare providers to differentiate between viral and bacterial disease.  The clear distinction between the two infections facilitates the proper administration of antimicrobial agents. Proper diagnostics decrease mortality through increasing chances for early antibiotics for patients with bacterial infections. Moreover, it reduces morbidity rates by reducing unnecessary antibiotics for patients without bacterial infections




Dehghan, M. J., Bozorgmehr, A., Hajjari, S. N., & Shombolestani, A. (2017). Review of new insights into antimicrobial agents. Cellular and Molecular Biology, 63(2).

Gelone, S. P., Pacetti, S., Donnel, J., Arcangelo, V. p., Wilbur, V., & Reinhold, J. A. (2017). Principles of antimicrobial therapy. In Pharmacotherapeutics for advanced practice: A practical approach.

Montaner, J. S., Lima, V. D., Harrigan, R. P., Lourenco, L., Yip, B., Nosyk, B., et al. (2014). Expansion of HAART coverage is associated with sustained decreases in HIV/AIDS morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission: The “HIV treatment as prevention” experience in a Canadian setting. PLoS ONE, 9(2).

Schafer, J. J., & Foy, M. C. (n.d.). Bacterial infections of the skin.

Sweeney, T. E., Wong, H. R., & Khatri, P. (2016). Robust classification of bacterial and viral infections via integrated host gene expression diagnostics. Sci. Transl. Med, 346-356.