Viruses and bacteria are microscopic and indetectable to the eyes.
But they are always present and are responsible for causing fever, colds, flu, pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections, sinus infections, strep throat, meningitis, hepatitis and other diseases.
Viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics, and neither can bacteria with antiviral medications.
We need rapid tests to identify the specific pathogen causing the infection to avoid treatments being ineffective. What do we know?
Viruses are made up of proteins, RNA, DNA and other components. Viruses cannot reproduce themselves, but instead must infect a cell to replicate its genetic material.
Once inside a cell, the viral genome directs the production of hundreds of copies of itself.
These new virions then travel through the cytoplasm until they reach another cell, where they attach to receptors on the surface of the cell membrane and inject their own genetic material into the cell.
If the cell survives infection, the new genes direct the creation of new viruses.
There are trillions of microbes in and around your body. Many of them are harlmless and actually play a vital role in your health such as helping you digest food, break down toxins, produce vitamins, and keep you healthy.
These tiny organisms are called commensals and live in harmony with you. However, some of them can also cause diseases and these are called pathogens.
There are many different types of pathogens and each type causes a specific kind of infection.
For example, there are bacterial infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus, fungal infections caused by Candida albicans, viral infections caused by herpes simplex virus, parasitic worms like hookworms, and protozoans like Giardia lamblia.
There are about 3 million different types of bacteria found in our bodies. About 1 percent of them are pathogens.
These microorganisms cause diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, dysentery, meningitis, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, cholera, malaria, diphtheria, tetanus, scarlet fever, gonorrhea, syphilis, leprosy, and many others.
But how do they differ? Let’s look at bacteria.
Bacteria are prokaryotic cells, meaning they lack a nucleus and other cell components found in eukaryotic cells.
They are the simplest living organism, but there are many different kinds of bacteria. As we’ve seen, some are pathogens that cause disease, while others help keep our environment clean.
Bacteria are also useful because they are often used in biotechnology. They are also used to create biofuels. Soil bacteria play an important role in recycling nutrients back into the earth.
Bacteria are essential to life. They exist everywhere, even in the deepest parts of the ocean.
Bacteria are responsible for breaking down organic matter like dead plants and animals and they also provide us with vitamins and minerals we need for survival.
Although much bacteria is good bacterial infections still cause millions of deaths every year and are responsible for many of the plagues in history such as the plague.
The biggest problem exists because most bacteria grow quickly, multiplying within 20 minutes to an hour. Unlike virus bacteria can exist in all sorts of environments.
Mutations happen when DNA is copied incorrectly. These errors occur naturally during cell division, but they also can happen due to exposure to radiation or other chemicals.
When mutations occur, they can alter the function of genes, causing them to produce proteins that aren’t functional.
If enough mutations occur, then the gene becomes nonfunctional. These mutations can lead to cancerous cells or even death.
Bacteria have evolved a system of communication called quorum sensing. Quorum sensing allows bacteria to sense each other and react accordingly.
This means that the bacteria can act as a single organism, coordinating their actions and adapting to environmental changes.
Bacterial communities can also self-organize into complex structures, like biofilms. Biofilms are groups of bacteria that stick together and form a protective layer around themselves.
Their structure resembles a colony of ants or bees, protecting them from harsh conditions.
A virus is an infectious agent that is composed of nucleic acids (RNA or DNA) surrounded by proteins. A virus can exist in many forms: spherical, rod shaped, filamentous, helical, icosahedral, etc.
Some viruses can also form crystals. Viruses can be transmitted through air, water, blood, saliva, semen, feces, breast milk, urine, tears, sweat, skin, and other bodily fluids.
Unlike bacteria, they cannot replicate on their own, so they can’t grow unless they infect a host cell.
Viruses cannot survive in environments with high temperatures or pressures. They also require specific conditions for reproduction.
For example, they must be able to attach themselves to cells and penetrate the cell membrane. Once inside the cell, they must release their genetic material in order to create new viruses.
A virus can mutate to become transmissible. When a virus evolves it can leap into humans but often starts out as an animal virus.
Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses with a single positive stranded RNA genome. Genomes vary from 26 to 32 kilobases long, encoding about 30 proteins.
Most coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans. In addition to causing respiratory illnesses, coronaviruses may also cause diarrhea, encephalitis, meningitis, and myocarditis.
Distinguishing Between The Two
New advancement in molecular medicine means that doctors are better able to detect viruses and bacteria more accurately.
These molecular tools are called molecular probes because doctors can also use them to study the evolution of microbes and track whether they change during different stages of an infection.
It is not just about identifying viruses, but also about finding out what kind of virus it is. Antibiotics are effective against certain types of bacteria, but not all.
If doctors could quickly identify whether an infection was bacterial or viral, they could stop prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily.
Scientists are using genetic engineering to create vaccines that could help prevent the spread of viruses such as coronavirus.
They are constantly working on developing a vaccines that mimics an antibody produced by our immune systems when we get sick.
These antibodies bind to specific proteins on the surface of the coronavirus, preventing them from entering healthy cells.
Researchers are also trying to modify the virus itself to make it easier for the body to recognize and destroy. For example, they may change its shape so that it looks more similar to other harmless viruses.
Scientists hope to combine these two approaches to produce a single vaccine that will work across all strains of SARS-CoV-2.
Traditional vaccines are inactivated or weak forms of viruses. There are many vaccines being developed worldwide including ones made using a wide range sophisticated technologies.
This technology includes the use of subunit vaccination which is where researchers create viral proteins, and place them inside the body, to trick the immune systems into making antibodies to protect against these viruses.
Despite sharing some similarities, viruses and bacteria are fundamentally different and understanding these will enable doctors and patients to make the right treatment choices.
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