Unlike antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections, there is no specific class of drugs that treat viral infections such as influenza and the common cold. Both are also the leading cause of patient visits to physicians and account for the most number of absences from school and work compared to any other illness. The first step to treating a bacterial or a viral infection is to distinguish one from the other. The symptoms are fairly similar, so a visit to your physician may be necessary.
In order to determine which type of infection is causing the symptoms, a doctor may run a CBC blood test, which is used as a broad screening procedure to check for disorders such as anemia (decrease in red blood cells or hemoglobin), infection, and many other diseases. Depending on the situation, a culture (blood, urine, throat, etc.) may also be necessary. The cultures are often sent out to a lab and the results may take a while to be received. Many Patients today demand a “quick fix” that sometimes lead to doctors prescribing antibiotics for a viral infection. Antibiotics treat pathogenic bacterial infections, however, they cannot effectively treat viral infections.
Research is being conducted at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to design vaccinations and treatments for both bacterial and viral infections. Many life threatening conditions that once took the life of so many pose no threat today. “Rubella, a virus that once seriously harmed tens of thousands of infants is no longer a major health threat, thanks to a safe and effective vaccine and successful immunization programs across the country,” states CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
Our body’s natural defense is the immune system. Cells called T-lymphocytes recognize and kill cells containing viruses. Antibodies within the body generally kill viruses released from infected cells. Children and adults with viral infections generally recover once the illness has run its course. Colds caused by viruses may last for two weeks or longer.
The following can help a person with a cold or flu feel better:
- Increase fluid intake
- Use cool mist vaporizer or saline nasal spray to relieve congestion
- Soothe throat with ice chips
When fighting an infection, the body needs extra help not only to boost the immune system and eradicate invasive bacterial and viral entities, but also to alleviate associated symptoms and restock nutritional stores depleted due to illness. The quickest way to overcome viral infections like a common cold or flu is to provide your body with the nutrients it needs during this time
CBC Blood Test and Bacterial Cultures
Both CBC blood tests and bacterial cultures help distinguish between bacterial and viral infections. Normally part of a routine medical exam, CBC tests help identify serious problems before they get worse. The CBC test provides a complete count of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in an individual’s blood. Complete blood count testing is actually a panel of tests that help physicians examine different parts of their patients’ blood.
The CBC is used as a broad screening test to check for such disorders as anemia, infection, and many other diseases. If the blood test indicates increased white blood cell count, it is indicative of bacterial infections. Viral infections result in a decreased white blood cell count. Results from CBC blood tests will provide your doctor with a general overview of your health.
Your doctor may order blood, throat, urine, or sputum (secretion produced in the lungs and the bronchi) cultures when you are having symptoms of sepsis (bacterial infection), which indicate that bacteria or their byproducts are causing harm in your body. The cultures help determine the type of bacterial infection. Blood cultures are drawn more frequently in newborns who may have an infection, but may not have the typical signs and symptoms of sepsis. Similarly, blood cultures are collected in young children to detect serious infections.
Common pathogenic bacterial cultures include:
- Group B streptococcus
- E. Coli
- Corynebacterium diphtheriae
- Neisseria gonorrhoeae
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae
- Haemophilus influenzae
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Staphylococcus aureus
Common viral cultures include:
- Parainfluenza virusus
- Respitatory syncytial virus
- Influenza virus
- Epslein-Barr virus
Source: American Association for Clinical Chemistry