Bacteria and Viruses
There are a number of differences between a virus and bacteria, or more appropriately, viruses
and bacteria, including their relative sizes, reproduction methods and resistance to medical inter-
vention. Bacterium, the singular form of the word bacteria, is a one-celled living organism, with
complete sets of both ribonucleic acid (RNA) and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) genetic codes. A
virus is little more than a section of RNA or DNA covered by a protein shell. Bacterium, therefore,
is at least a hundred times larger than a typical virus.
One major difference between viruses and bacteria is the method of reproduction. Bacterium is a
completely self-contained and self-reproducing unit. When the time is right, bacterium will split
its DNA and RNA genetic material in two. Separate cell walls will build up around these two new
bacteria, and this process will continue until thousands or millions of bacteria have formed. This
is how strains of bacteria survive in almost every environment on Earth, including non-living
surfaces like rocks or plastic.
A virus, on the other hand, cannot reproduce without a living host. A virus may lie dormant for
thousands of years before finally coming into contact with a suitable host. Once it enters the
body of a host, a virus uses leg-like appendages to clamp onto a cell and a spike or chemical
coating to penetrate the cell wall.
Once inside a living cell, a virus replaces the cell's original DNA or RNA commands with its own
genetic instructions. Those instructions are usually to make as many copies of the virus as possi-
ble. Once the individual cell has outlived its usefulness, it explodes and sends out thousands of
copies of the original virus to other unsuspecting cells.
Ninety-nine percent of all known bacteria are considered beneficial to humans, or at
least harmless. (important - because we don't want to kill the good ones!) They spend their
days breaking down organic matter and destroying harmful parasites. The small percentage of
bacteria considered harmful to the human body, such as streptococcus and E. coli, are still per-
forming the same functions as their less-toxic bacteria brethren.
Bacteria feed on the tissues of the human body and excrete toxins and acids afterwards. It is
these toxins and irritating acids that cause many of the problems associated with bacterial infec-
tion. If the bacteria can be killed with antibiotics, the infections left behind should clear up soon
Most viruses, on the other hand, serve no beneficial purpose. Their sole mission in life is
to create more viruses in order to assure survival of the strain. The deadly effect a virus has on
its host is merely incidental.
When a virus enters the human body, it seeks out an acceptable host cell and seizes it without
warning. Once the cell bursts, thousands of new viruses repeat the process on other healthy
cells. By the time the body's natural defenses become aware of the invasion, the virus may have
significant control over vital organs and tissues. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the
Ebola virus are textbook examples of what dangerous viruses can do to a human body before
they run their course.
Medical intervention and treatment is another major difference between viruses and
bacteria. Bacteria is alive, which means it can be killed by some form of chemical agent. Anti-
biotics are chemical compounds that kill off bacteria by destroying their cell walls or neutraliz-
ing their ability to reproduce. The reason doctors prescribe lengthy rounds of antibiotics to
patients is to create an environment in which bacteria cannot live. Although bacteria often
eventually develop a tolerance for certain antibiotics, the effect is similar to using insecticide
Viruses, by comparison, are not considered living creatures. They cannot be 'killed' in
the same sense as antibiotics kill bacteria or insecticide kills insects. In fact, treatment
of viral infections is often no treatment at all. The disease must run its course until the
body can mount a successful defense on its own. Anti-viral treatments, when they exist,
work on the principle of blocking the virus' own destructive methods. Either the RNA or DNA
strand of the virus must be rendered harmless genetically, or the methods of breaking through
a cell wall must be destroyed.
Anti-viral medications are still largely experimental, which is why certain diseases such as AIDS,
HIV and Ebola are still affecting millions of people world-wide. Scientists are still trying to un-
derstand the basic structure and genetic programming of viruses. Only by understanding how
a virus works can a successful vaccine eventually be developed. Treating most bacteria-based
diseases, on the other hand, can be a matter of finding the most effective antibiotic or using a
broad spectrum approach.
(Note: the H1N1 flu is a viral infection, while the EPA does all virucidal claims for surface disin-
fectants, the FDA does not allow virucidal claims for hand cleansers or sanitizers)
(material taken from web – Flufacts.com, CDC, and wisegeek.com)