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Viral vs Bacterial infections

Debunking Myths: Viral vs Bacterial infections

Many people confuse bacterial and viral infections. But the treatments -- and prevention -- for both are very different.

Bacterial and viral infections share similar symptoms, making it difficult to know which you might have. In fact, many illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea can be caused by either virus or bacteria. It's important to know the difference between bacterial and viral illnesses, how they are caused, and what treatments are effective. Let's debunk common myths pertaining to bacteria and viruses.

Myth #1: Antibacterial soap can help contain the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 or seasonal flu.

Fact: Antibacterial soap helps to break up and remove germs and bacteria from our hands but does not provide added protection against viruses. It's preferable to just wash your hands with regular plain soap and water.

Myth #2: Cold medicine can cure the common cold or seasonal flu and help fight off viruses.

Fact: Viruses cannot be eliminated the same way bacterial infections can. While some infections (such as strep throat, tuberculosis and urinary tract infections) are bacterial in nature and can be eliminated by antibiotics, viruses (such as the common cold, the flu, chicken pox, etc.) must run their course. And while there's no cure for the common cold, over the counter cold medicine can help alleviate symptoms. This can include nasal drops, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, antihistamines and more. Tamiflu is also used to help keep flu enzymes from multiplying and spreading.

Myth #3: Hand sanitizer can be used to kill germs, bacteria and viruses.

Fact: Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% of ethyl alcohol or 70% of isopropyl alcohol can break down virus and bacteria protein layers, essentially "killing" these pathogens. But it isn't recommended for full time use. After prolonged usage, hand sanitizer can actually build up and trap germs. It's also not effective against all germs and viruses, such as norovirus or C. diff. Whenever possible, opt for washing your hands thoroughly and frequently with plain soap and warm water. Use hand sanitizer when you can't.

Myth #4: Flu shots and other vaccines can actually make you sick because they're made with those same pathogens.

Fact: Flu shots cannot give you the flu virus or make you "sick". While the vaccine can spur some side effects (i.e. swollen redness around the injection site), it's made with inactive — or killed — viruses that can't pass on illness. Likewise, other vaccines (meant to prevent bacterial and viral infection), cannot pass on those illnesses, even if they're not 100% effective. Vaccines are critical to our health and help minimize the seriousness of illness in the case of a "breakthrough" infection.

Myth #5: Vitamin supplements can help your immune system fight off viruses and bacteria.

Fact: If you’re deficient in certain things like vitamin B or vitamin D, vitamin supplements can be vital to your health and immunity. However, this doesn’t mean that they can help fight off COVID-19 and other viruses. One study conducted to determine if taking vitamin C supplements could shorten the duration of common colds showed no clear impact.

As we head into flu season, keep your immune system healthy and don't forget to get your flu shot. A booster shot for COVID-19 will not replace a flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older gets an annual flu shot. If you're 65 years or older, consider getting the high-dose flu vaccine. Wash your hands regularly with warm water and soap, live a healthy lifestyle and make sure to stay hydrated. If you get sick or are in need of an appointment with a doctor, click here.


This article first appeared in the October 2021 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

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