Wednesday , March 29 2023

What is the difference between bacteria and viruses?


Dear Uncle Max, can you tell me the difference between bacteria and viruses? For example, there is talk once about flu bacteria and then again about flu viruses. (Alexander Kreger from Werdau asks for clarification.)

Infectious diseases can be caused by a variety of pathogens. These are parasites, fungi and also bacteria or viruses. The Federal Center for Health Education explains all pathogens in a very informative way on its website

According to it, viruses consist only of one or more molecules and are sometimes surrounded by a protein shell. Molecules, which are the smallest units of a chemical compound that make up atoms, contain genetic material (DNA or RNA) with the information needed to reproduce them. Unlike bacteria, viruses do not consist of their own cells, nor do they have their own metabolism. They do not have their own capacity for energy production and protein synthesis. Therefore, strictly speaking, they are not living beings.


Viruses are small, only about 20 to 300 nanometers in size. So you can’t see them under a normal light microscope, you need an electron microscope. Viruses come in many forms. Some look almost like tadpoles with a long tail, others are round or rod-shaped. They can cause harmless illnesses such as colds or cold sores. Most gastrointestinal infections in this country are also caused by viruses. Serious infections such as HIV / AIDS, inflammation of the liver (hepatitis) or coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) are also caused by viruses. Viruses need host cells to multiply. As soon as pathogens enter our body, they begin to multiply. The host cell dies and thousands of viruses are released, which immediately begin to look for new cells in the host, such as blood cells or muscle cells. Viruses also cause many so-called classic childhood diseases, such as chickenpox, measles or rubella. By the way, it is still unclear how the viruses originated or from where.

Bacteria, on the other hand, are considered the oldest inhabitants of the earth. They can multiply in many different conditions and, like viruses, can survive in the environment or in the body for very long, weeks or even months. Bacteria are many times larger than viruses. They range in size from about 0.1 to 700 micrometers, and the microscope shows all sorts of shapes, from spherical structures to branched filaments or rods to cylindrical structures. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are self-sufficient. In the cell, they produce what is needed for life. They have their own genetic makeup and metabolism. Bacteria are found everywhere, such as in air, water or food. Bacteria multiply by dividing into cells. Usually the bacterium narrows in the middle of its cells and divides into two parts. So it clones.


Well-known bacteria include salmonella and staphylococci. Salmonella causes salmonellosis, a typical foodborne illness. Staphylococci, in turn, can cause abscesses or sepsis. But diseases such as tuberculosis, whooping cough, scarlet fever or urinary tract infections are also caused by bacteria. Some infections, such as diarrhea or pneumonia, can be caused by both viruses and bacteria. The use of the word flu viruses and flu bacteria is not wrong, even if without a doctor’s diagnosis you usually don’t know if you owe your cold to bacteria or viruses. (MQU)

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