Infections are a pain. Literally! An infection, at its most basic level, is basically a parasitic attack on a body to the point where it causes some sort of harm. There is a fine line between an infection and a symbiosis, and it is a line that sometimes gets pretty blurred. There are thousands of different types of infections, and all of these infections – called infectious diseases – have different treatments.
Types of infection
There are four basic types of infections: viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic. Technically, all of these are parasitic, but they refer to different types of organisms. So, for example, viral infections are caused by a virus. Bacterial by bacteria, fungal by fungi, and parasitic by a larger parasite (think of a tapeworm or a guinea worm).
Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, obviously, and are the growth of these single-celled organisms in an area that starts to cause the problems. Bacterial infections are some easier ones to deal with, thanks to the advent of antibacterials like penicillin, which is actually a type of fungus. Bacteria are more localized and easier to target but are getting more dangerous as some types of them, like staphylococcus, develop immunities to drugs like penicillin and other antibacterials. Bacterial infections are the easiest to confuse with viral infections because the infection is largely internal and is not particularly distinctive. As a result, it is harder to immediately tell.
Fungal infections are much easier to identify because they have a tendency to form on the surface of the skin or in the lungs. This makes it easy to identify and easy to treat. It is also easier to avoid because it just involves simple hygiene. If you keep your home clean and keep out mold, you are not likely to get a lot of spores going into your lungs where they can accumulate, and wearing shoes in damp areas is a help too.
Parasitic infections are basically when a larger multicellular organism infects you and starts doing damage to your body. An example is a tapeworm, which latches to your intestines and eats the food you should be eating. Then there is the heinous guinea worm, which gets into infected water and then comes out through your skin, possibly causing infection. These are also easily identifiable, and as such, are getting easier to prevent and, indeed, eradicate, as hygiene and public health efforts take it out throughout the world.
Viral infections are probably the most frightening of all the possibilities. That is because the viral infection is harder to get rid of. The virus is the only way to describe it because it technically doesn‘t fit the definition of an organism. They basically enter into a living cell and replicate themselves, usually destroying the cells in the process, and then moving on to another cell. They are also the hardest to avoid because transmitting virus changes from virus to virus. The HIV virus, for example, is transmitted sexually, but others, such as influenza, are transmitted through the air. They are, in a lot of cases, unavoidable, or very difficult to avoid. Often, the ability of the body to get rid of the virus depends on the immune systems‘ ability to destroy that virus, and if the immune system is not trained to attack the virus, they may not be able to get rid of the infection. Some infections, like the flu, just take a while for the body to catch up with. Others, like herpes or HIV, are currently incurable. Some viral infections are just pains, others are fatal.
What is the difference?
You can probably diagnose the difference between viral and bacterial infections yourself. Parasitic and fungal infections will also be pretty obvious, so we‘re not going to describe them here.
Viral infections take place throughout the body, causing a number of symptoms in a number of different systems. Both viral and bacterial infections can cause fevers and the symptoms that come with fevers, but viruses pervade the entire body, pretty much, so you will be feeling symptoms all over the place. Bacterial infections tend to be more localized. So if you get traveler‘s diarrhea, for example, it‘s mostly involving a single system. Now, if you have it for an extended period of time, this can cause you to have other problems, like a fever or dehydration, but it‘s all stemming from diarrhea. If you have a cut that has gotten infected, there will be swelling, redness, or blue or yellow material building around the cut. That is bacterial. If you have several systems involved in the problem, it can be a virus.
We should note that this isn‘t an across-the-board distinction. There are several viral infections – like the harp – which are generally going to be in a more localized place, and there are bacterial infections that could be in multiple places. A difference that is also often clear is that you will feel more of a dull aching, itching, and burning for viral infections, whereas bacterial infections will be more acute pain.
Ultimately, the way to tell is to check the viral infection symptoms and then go to the doctor with an educated guess. The doctor will then diagnose you and set up a treatment plan. The doctor needs to make an accurate diagnosis here because bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, whereas these antibiotics have no effect on viruses. There are more individualized treatments for viruses.
As a final note, if you are thinking you are infected with something, you should contact a doctor immediately and set up a treatment plan as soon as possible, so you can take it out quickly.