You should consult your doctor if you think you have a bacterial or viral infection. Exceptions include the common cold, which is usually not life-threatening.
In some cases, it’s difficult to determine the origin of an infection because many ailments — including pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea — can be caused by either bacteria or viruses.
If necessary, he or she also can order a blood or urine test to help confirm a diagnosis, or a “culture test” of tissue to identify bacteria or viruses. Occasionally, a biopsy of affected tissue may be required.
Bacterial infection are treated with anti-bacterials or antibiotics. The discovery of antibiotics for bacterial infections is considered one of the most important breakthroughs in medical history. Unfortunately, bacteria are very adaptable, and the overuse of antibiotics has made many of them resistant to antibiotics. This has created serious problems, especially in hospital settings.
Viral infections are treated with anti-virals, but vaccines are also used to prevent infection. Vaccines have drastically reduced the number of new cases of viral diseases such as polio, measles, and chickenpox. In addition, vaccines can prevent such infections such as the flu, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, human papillomavirus (HPV), and others. But the treatment of viral infections has proved more challenging, primarily because viruses are relatively tiny and reproduce inside cells.