You are on page 1of 4

Infectionsbacterialandviral

Summary

Manyhumanillnessesarecausedbyinfectionwitheitherbacteriaorviruses.
Mostbacterialdiseasescanbetreatedwithantibiotics,althoughantibiotic-resistantstrainsarestartingto
emerge.
Virusesposeachallengetothebodysimmunesystembecausetheyhideinsidecells.
Itispossibletobevaccinatedagainstsomeofthemajordisease-causingviruses(suchasmeaslesand
polio),aswellasbacterialdiseasessuchasHemophilusinfluenzaTypeb(Hib),tetanusandwhoopingcough.

Manyhumaninfectionsarecausedbyeitherbacteriaorviruses.Bacteriaaretinysingle-celledorganisms,thought
bysomeresearcherstoberelatedtoplants.Theyareamongthemostsuccessfullifeformsontheplanet,and
rangeinhabitatfromiceslopestodeserts.

Bacteriacanbebeneficialforinstance,gutbacteriahelpustodigestfoodbutsomeareresponsiblefora
rangeofinfections.Thesedisease-causingvarietiesarecalledpathogenicbacteria.Manybacterialinfectionscan
betreatedsuccessfullywithappropriateantibiotics,althoughantibiotic-resistantstrainsarebeginningtoemerge.
Immunisationisavailabletopreventmanyimportantbacterialdiseases.

Avirusisanevensmallermicro-organismthatcanonlyreproduceinsideahostslivingcell.Itisverydifficulttokill
avirus.Thatswhysomeofthemostseriouscommunicablediseasesknowntomedicalscienceareviralinorigin.

Howbacteriaandvirusesenterthebody

Tocausedisease,pathogenicbacteriamustgainaccessintothebody.Therangeofaccessroutesforbacteria
includes:
Cuts
Contaminatedfoodorwater
Closecontactwithaninfectedperson
Contactwiththefaecesofaninfectedperson
Breathingintheexhaleddropletswhenaninfectedpersoncoughsorsneezes
Indirectly,bytouchingcontaminatedsurfacessuchastaps,toilethandles,toysandnappies.

Virusesarespreadfromonepersontoanotherby:
Coughs
Sneezes
Vomits
Bitesfrominfectedanimalsorinsects
Exposuretoinfectedbodilyfluidsthroughactivitiessuchassexualintercourseorsharinghypodermicneedles.
Forgettingtowashyourhandsafterhandlingpetsandanimalsisanotherwayforgermstobetakeninbymouth.

Bacteriatypes

Bacteriathatcausediseasearebroadlyclassifiedaccordingtotheirshape.Thefourmaingroupsinclude:

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Infectionsbacterialandviral Page1of4
Bacillishapedlikearodwithalengthofaround0.03mm.Illnessessuchastyphoidandcystitisarecaused
bybacillistrains.
Coccishapedlikeaspherewithadiameterofaround0.001mm.Dependingonthesort,coccibacteria
groupthemselvesinarangeofways,suchasinpairs,longlinesortightclusters.Examplesinclude
Staphylococci(whichcauseahostofinfectionsincludingboils)andGonococci(whichcausethesexually
transmissibleinfectiongonorrhoea).
Spirochaetesasthenamesuggests,thesebacteriaareshapedliketinyspirals.Spirochaetesbacteriaare
responsibleforarangeofdiseases,includingthesexuallytransmissibleinfectionsyphilis.
Vibrioshapedlikeacomma.Thetropicaldiseasecholera,characterisedbyseverediarrhoeaand
dehydration,iscausedbythevibriobacteria.

Characteristicsofthebacterium

Mostbacteria,apartfromthecoccivariety,movearoundwiththeaidofsmalllashingtails(flagella)orbywhipping
theirbodiesfromsidetoside.Undertherightconditions,abacteriumreproducesbydividingintwo.Each
daughtercellthendividesintwoandsoon,sothatasinglebacteriumcanbloomintoapopulationofsome
500,000ormorewithinjusteighthours.

Iftheenvironmentalconditionsdontsuitthebacteria,somevarietiesmorphintoadormantstate.Theydevelopa
toughoutercoatingandawaittheappropriatechangeofconditions.Thesehibernatingbacteriaarecalledspores.
Sporesarehardertokillthanactivebacteriabecauseoftheiroutercoating.

Curingabacterialinfection

Thebodyreactstodisease-causingbacteriabyincreasinglocalbloodflow(inflammation)andsendingincellsfrom
theimmunesystemtoattackanddestroythebacteria.Antibodiesproducedbytheimmunesystemattachtothe
bacteriaandhelpintheirdestruction.Theymayalsoinactivatetoxinsproducedbyparticularpathogens,for
exampletetanusanddiphtheria.

Seriousinfectionscanbetreatedwithantibiotics,whichworkbydisruptingthebacteriumsmetabolicprocesses,
althoughantibiotic-resistantstrainsarestartingtoemerge.Immunisationisavailabletopreventmanyimportant
bacterialdiseasessuchasHemophilusinfluenzaTypeb(Hib),tetanusandwhoopingcough..

Virustypes

Avirusisaminisculepocketofproteinthatcontainsgeneticmaterial.Ifyouplacedavirusnexttoabacterium,the
viruswouldbedwarfed.Forexample,thepoliovirusisaround50timessmallerthanaStreptococcibacterium,
whichitselfisonly0.003mmlong.VirusescanbedescribedaseitherRNAorDNAviruses,accordingtowhichtype
ofnucleicacidformstheircore.

Thefourmaintypesofvirusinclude:

Icosahedraltheoutershell(capsid)ismadefrom20flatsides,whichgivesasphericalshape.Most
virusesareicosahedral.
Helicalthecapsidisshapedlikearod.
Envelopedthecapsidisencasedinabaggymembrane,whichcanchangeshapebutoftenappears
spherical.
Complexthegeneticmaterialiscoated,butwithoutacapsid.

Thebodysresponsetoviralinfection

Virusesposeaconsiderablechallengetothebodysimmunesystembecausetheyhideinsidecells.Thismakesit
difficultforantibodiestoreachthem.Somespecialimmunesystemcells,calledT-lymphocytes,canrecogniseand
killcellscontainingviruses,sincethesurfaceofinfectedcellsischangedwhenthevirusbeginstomultiply.Many

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Infectionsbacterialandviral Page2of4
viruses,whenreleasedfrominfectedcells,willbeeffectivelyknockedoutbyantibodiesthathavebeenproduced
inresponsetoinfectionorpreviousimmunisation.

Curingaviralinfection

Antibioticsareuselessagainstviralinfections.Thisisbecausevirusesaresosimplethattheyusetheirhostcells
toperformtheiractivitiesforthem.Soantiviraldrugsworkdifferentlytoantibiotics,byinterferingwiththeviral
enzymesinstead.

Antiviraldrugsarecurrentlyonlyeffectiveagainstafewviraldiseases,suchasinfluenza,herpes,hepatitisBandC
andHIVbutresearchisongoing.Anaturallyoccurringprotein,calledinterferon(whichthebodyproducestohelp
fightviralinfections),cannowbeproducedinthelaboratoryandisusedtotreathepatitisCinfections.

Immunisationagainstviralinfectionisnotalwayspossible

Itispossibletovaccinateagainstmanyseriousviralinfectionssuchasmeasles,mumps,hepatitisAandhepatitis
B.Anaggressiveworldwidevaccinationcampaign,headedbytheWorldHealthOrganization(WHO),managedto
wipeoutsmallpox.However,somevirusessuchasthosethatcausethecommoncoldarecapableofmutating
fromonepersontothenext.Thisishowaninfectionwithessentiallythesameviruscankeepdodgingtheimmune
system.Vaccinationforthesekindsofvirusesisdifficult,becausetheviruseshavealreadychangedtheirformatby
thetimevaccinesaredeveloped.

Wheretogethelp
Yourdoctor
Yourpharmacist

Thingstoremember
Manyhumanillnessesarecausedbyinfectionwitheitherbacteriaorviruses.
Mostbacterialdiseasescanbetreatedwithantibiotics,althoughantibiotic-resistantstrainsarestartingto
emerge.
Virusesposeachallengetothebodysimmunesystembecausetheyhideinsidecells.
Itispossibletobevaccinatedagainstsomeofthemajordisease-causingviruses(suchasmeaslesand
polio),aswellasbacterialdiseasessuchasHemophilusinfluenzaTypeb(Hib),tetanusandwhoopingcough.

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Infectionsbacterialandviral Page3of4
Thispagehasbeenproducedinconsultationwithandapprovedby:
DepartmentofHealthandHumanServices-RHP&R-HealthProtection-CommunicableDiseasePreventionand
ControlUnit

Contentonthiswebsiteisprovidedforeducationandinformationpurposesonly.Informationaboutatherapy,
service,productortreatmentdoesnotimplyendorsementandisnotintendedtoreplaceadvicefromyour
doctororotherregisteredhealthprofessional.ContenthasbeenpreparedforVictorianresidentsandwider
Australianaudiences,andwasaccurateatthetimeofpublication.Readersshouldnotethat,overtime,
currencyandcompletenessoftheinformationmaychange.Allusersareurgedtoalwaysseekadvicefroma
registeredhealthcareprofessionalfordiagnosisandanswerstotheirmedicalquestions.
Forthelatestupdatesandmoreinformation,visitwww.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Copyight1999/2017StateofVictoria.ReproducedfromtheBetterHealthChannel
(www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au)atnocostwithpermissionoftheVictorianMinisterforHealth.Unauthorised
reproductionandotherusescomprisedinthecopyrightareprohibitedwithoutpermission.

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Infectionsbacterialandviral Page4of4