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Bacterial vs. Viral Infections: What’s the Difference? 

Most cases of illnesses can be caused by either a bacterial or viral infection. When you get sick with a bacteria or virus, your immune system will get into action and fight the harmful organisms which can lead to several symptoms such as coughing, fever, diarrhea, and fatigue. Some infections can also cause noticeable changes to the skin like an itchy rash, open sore, or bumps. 

Although viral and bacterial infections have similar symptoms, there are distinct differences such as in the way they've acquired, transmitted, and treated. Here’s a table with the common facts about bacterial and viral infections: 

Bacterial infectionViral infection
These are diseases caused by bacteria, which are small single-celled organisms that can exist in the environment or the human body. These are infectious diseases caused by a virus, which are organisms that are smaller than a bacterium. They reproduce by attaching themselves to host cells. 
There are different groups of bacteria categorized according to their unique shapes and structures. This can include bacilli (rod-shaped), cocci (round sphere), spirochaetes (spiral-shaped), and vibrio (comma-shaped). Like bacteria, viruses can be classified into several types: icosahedral, enveloped, helical, and complex. 
Some bacteria are beneficial like the gut bacteria which supports normal digestion. Most infections are caused by specific pathogenic bacteria. Viruses pose a greater threat because they invade the healthy cells in the body in order to grow and multiply. Some viruses are the cause of malignant or cancerous cells. 

How Do You Get a Bacterial or Viral Infection?  

Bacterial infections often start when a bacteria enters the body, multiplies, and causes an immune system reaction. The most common way that pathogenic bacteria can go into your body is through an opening in your skin. You may also acquire bacteria through droplets that can enter your airway and lead to a bacterial respiratory infection.

Viral infections can be acquired through close exposure or contact with surfaces or fluids that have the virus. Most viruses are airborne and can be spread when you inhale small respiratory droplets from an infected person. 

Here are other ways that a bacterial or viral infectious disease can be transmitted: 

  • Engaging in close contact or physical activity with an infected individual 
  • Being exposed to the fluids of a person with existing bacterial or viral disease 
  • Touching surfaces that are contaminated with bacteria or viruses 
  • Can be transmitted from a mother to a child during pregnancy or birth 
  • Bites from infected insects or animals  
  • Consuming contaminated food or water  
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At Dermatology & Skin Health, we offer world-class services done by award-winning doctors who have proven their knowledge and skills in this field. Start your journey towards achieving your best skin by contacting us today.

Common Types of Bacterial Infections 


This is a highly contagious skin infection that affects many children and babies. This bacterial skin disease usually causes red, itchy sores around the nose and mouth. These sores can often rupture and cause crusting or leave a scab on the skin. Some types of impetigo can form large blisters or fluid-filled sores all over the body. 

Strep Throat

This bacterial illness usually causes a scratchy or sore throat which results in pain or difficulty swallowing. It can also lead to symptoms of headache, fever, body aches, and skin rash. The rash that forms in patients with strep throat is called scarlet fever. This inflammatory skin reaction is caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. It can often lead to a widespread skin rash accompanied by redness of the face and red lines on the crevices of the body. 

Bacterial Meningitis

This condition is caused by the swelling of membranes in the brain and spinal cord. It can lead to visible rashes that look like small discolored pinpricks or bruise-like patches on the skin. In addition to the skin reaction, bacterial meningitis can also cause a high fever, stiff neck, severe headache, and nausea. 

Urinary Tract Infection

This bacterial illness refers to any infection in the urinary system. Although its most common symptom is the frequent urge to urinate, some cases of urinary tract infection can also manifest itchy skin rashes or redness as a result of irritation from exposure to the urine. 

Lyme Disease

This infectious disease occurs when an infected insect bites you and transfers the bacteria to your bloodstream. One of its early symptoms is the appearance of a red bump on the skin. It can cause a rash known as erythema migrans. While this rash is not itchy or painful, it can feel tender and warm and can form in multiple areas of the body. 

Common Viral Infections 

Herpes Simplex Virus

This is a common viral infection caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 or HSV-1. It usually develops painful, itchy, cold sores in the genital area. It has other symptoms such as small bumps and blisters that may cause ulceration and form scabs. This skin infection may be accompanied by a fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. 

Molluscum Contagiosum

This skin infection is caused by poxvirus and it usually leads to the widespread growth of small bumps or flesh-colored lesions on the body. These lesions can be itchy, painful, or become swollen over time. Some of the common areas where its symptoms develop are the neck, arms, abdomen, legs, and even the genital region.


This viral illness is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and it often leads to the appearance of painful rashes on the body. The skin rash can likewise cause an itching or burning sensation. In some cases, pus-filled blisters may also form and ooze and crust on the skin. 


These are skin-colored growths or bumps that commonly appear on the fingers and hands. Warts are spread through close contact or touch, and it can take about 6 months for them to fully develop on the skin. They are usually harmless and can disappear on their own if you have a healthy immune system.

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How to Tell If You Have a Bacterial or Viral Infection  

It’s important to consult a bacterial or viral infections specialist to get an accurate diagnosis of your symptoms. Some illnesses like ear infections, pneumonia, and sinus infection can be caused by either bacteria or viruses, and it’s only by having a proper diagnosis that you can get the right treatment. 

In most cases, a doctor will perform a physical exam and ask about your medical history. They may also run some tests such as blood exams or urine tests. They may also perform a culture test or skin biopsy of the affected tissue.

Some conditions may be caused by a secondary bacterial infection that happens after a virus has infected your body. You may have a secondary infection if you have the following symptoms: 

  • Your symptoms have lasted for more than 14 days 
  • You have a severe, high fever compared to a common cold 
  • Your symptoms are not improving 

How Bacterial and Viral Infections Are Treated  

Most bacterial infections can be treated with prescribed antibiotic medication. They can help stop the infections and help clear some of the rashes on the skin. There are also topical antibiotic creams and ointments that can help reduce chronic skin infections from bacteria. 

Meanwhile, the symptoms of viral infections can be cured using various methods. This can include taking an antiviral drug or over-the-counter medication for pain relief. If you have a sore throat, cold, or runny nose, it helps to get plenty of rest, drink water, and take decongestants. Certain viral skin infections can also be treated with lotions, creams, and antihistamines. 

Ways to Avoid Getting Sick With an Infectious Disease 

There are some helpful measures that you can do to remain healthy and reduce your risk of having a viral or bacterial infection. 

  • Consult with your health care provider and get vaccinated for certain illnesses. 
  • Follow proper hygiene practices at home and outside. 
  • Always wash your hands and avoid touching the face with unclean hands. 
  • Wear a face mask when interacting with people that may be infected. 
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet with fruits and vegetables. 
  • Apply an insect repellent lotion to protect yourself against bug bites. 
Schedule Your Consultation Now at Dermatology & Skin Health

At Dermatology & Skin Health, we offer world-class services done by award-winning doctors who have proven their knowledge and skills in this field. Start your journey towards achieving your best skin by contacting us today.

Consult With Our Infectious Disease Specialists Today at Dermatology and Skin Health

Manage your health and wellness with the help of our bacterial and viral infections doctor at Dermatology and Skin Health. If you have a suspicious skin rash and you’re unsure about its causes, our team can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best treatment to improve your condition. Contact us today and request your first appointment with one of our specialists. 


Skin conditions should never be shrugged off as something minor, especially since the skin is one of the first lines of defense of your body against diseases. Allow us to handle your skin condition such as the following before it gets worse: