I pictured myself as a virus or a cancer cell and tried to sense what it would be like.
~ Jonas Salk
Many of us are confused as to the difference between a virus and a bacteria. But understanding the difference between a bacteria and a virus is not terribly difficult. The object of this post is not to give you a deep understanding of the differences between viruses and bacterias but rather a layman’s understanding of those differences.
But first I guess the question is why do we care about the differences between viruses and bacteria? Well, there could be a number of reasons. Firstly, understanding the differences will help you keep you healthier and aware of the nature of these two pathogenic vehicles as well as give you a better handle on how to describe your symptoms if you need to visit the doctor if you get sick from one or the other.
Also, understanding that some bacteria are beneficial and that all viruses are harmful – hence the name virulent – will help you maintain a more holistic outlook over your overall health and sanitation.
And not to mention that a bit of knowledge is always a good thing if you don’t pretend that you are more knowledgeable than you are.
So let’s first take a look at bacteria vs. viruses.
A bacteria is massive – or massive compared to a virus that is. If you are curious as to the scale of these small things then click here to check out a scale that goes from that of a coffee bean to as small as a carbon atom. You’ll notice that the measles virus (a large virus) looks similar in scale as a person does to a school bus when you notice the corresponding size of the E. coli bacterium.
Okay, so viruses are way smaller than bacteria and as such viruses can also infect bacteria. In fact, our current knowledge at the moment tells us that viruses are the smallest infectious agents that we are aware of. Viruses are also the smallest and simplest life form known though they aren’t considered living organisms.
So why aren’t viruses considered to be alive or living organisms? Well, this is primarily because they are not made of cells and because they cannot reproduce independently with their own kind, they need to infect other cells in order to reproduce.
Bacteria as we mentioned earlier can be beneficial and perhaps the most well known beneficial bacteria are the ones that are living in our intestines. Viruses on the other hand are never beneficial and are actually the opposite or harmful.
As an aside, their are at least 10x more bacteria on and in you than there are human cells in your body. In fact the amount of bacteria in the world has a mass greater than all plant and animal matter.
When it comes to combating the unfriendly bacteria we can use antibiotics which are usually very effective at killing off the disease or sickness causing bacteria. We are not so fortunate with viruses.
Viruses can be prevented with vaccines the likes of which we have had as children. Anti-viral medications are used with some viruses such as HIV and they help slow down the spread of the virus but cannot kill it or cure you of the virus. They can help the body better defend itself against those viruses which we can overcome like the influenza virus.
Bacteria are small when it comes to the size of the cells of our body and are only singular celled organisms whereas viruses don’t contain any cells at all and that is one of the reasons they are much smaller.
Bacteria reproduce by way of fission or asexual reproduction whereas viruses need to infect a host cell in order to reproduce. Viruses just contain DNA or RNA covered by a protein coat and they inject this genetic material into a host cell and use that cell’s machinery to replicate the viral DNA/RNA. When enough of this “new” or virus information is produced the cell bursts thus releasing all the “baby” viruses into the environment.
With this in mind you can appreciate that bacteria are intercellular organisms which means that they live in between cells whereas viruses are intracellular meaning they live inside cells.
If you’re curious about the types of common viral infections that affect humans, then check out this graphic from Wikipedia that gives a snapshot of the most common viruses that we might have to deal with. Here is a similar graphic that deals with the common bacterial infections that can afflict humans.
There you have the most common differences between viruses and bacteria. Stay well, eat healthy plant based foods and take care of your personal hygiene so that you limit your chances of having to deal with nasty viruses and the many nasty bacteria that we come into contact with daily.