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Bacterial vs. Viral Infections and COVID-19


NOTE:  The following information was published May 15, 2020. For current COVID-19 information, visit

When it comes to viral infections and bacterial infections, your symptoms may be similar – but bacteria and viruses are quite different. This means that treatment and care will be different as well. Georgia V. Fliakos, DO, with LVPG Family Medicine, explains what you can expect and how to care for yourself whether your illness is caused by a virus or bacteria.

Viral infections

A viral infection is caused by a virus entering the body and then replicating. Your immune system recognizes it as foreign and fights back. Symptoms of a viral infection are similar to bacterial infections and can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Ear pain
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Typically, the best way to care for a viral infection is to address the symptoms and implement healthy habits that support recovery. Healthy habits such as getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet with fruits and vegetables all can help support your immune system.

There are certain viruses that can cause complications and death. Many of those are preventable with a vaccine. Childhood vaccines are extremely important for this reason. Some viruses, such as influenza, have anti-virals (medications that reduce the ability of viruses to multiply) for treatment, but most viruses have no treatment to cure someone’s illness.

Bacterial infections

When bacteria enter the body and replicate, a bacterial infection can occur. It can cause symptoms that are similar to a viral infection (see above). But, unlike viral infections, bacterial infections can be treated with an antibiotic. To determine if you have a bacterial infection, you should see a health care provider who will assess the full spectrum of your symptoms and the timing of those symptoms and provide a physical exam.

How to avoid bacterial and viral infections

Contracting either type of infection occurs when you have contact with a person, pet or even an insect that has an infection. You also can get sick from touching a surface that is invisibly contaminated with the bacteria or virus and then touching your face. It is important to use good hand hygiene and avoid kissing or touching those who appear to be ill. A great practice is to always clean your hands with soap and water, or hand sanitizer, before eating or touching your face. You also should wash your hands when entering your home and sanitize areas that are frequently used at least once a week (bathrooms, kitchen, door knobs, railings, etc.).

What about COVID-19?

The COVID-19 disease is caused by a strain of coronavirus. The “CO” in COVID stands for coronavirus, “VI” represents virus and “D” is for disease. As with most viruses, the best way to care for someone with a COVID-19 infection is to treat the symptoms. To date, there is no cure for COVID-19. Read more about COVID-19, including symptoms and how to seek care at

If you are experiencing common COVID-19 symptoms, you can contact us from home in the following ways:

  • Complete an E-Visit (detailed questionnaire visit submitted to a provider) by visiting or your MyLVHN app.
  • Call the MyLVHN Nurse Information line at 1-888-402-LVHN.
  • Complete an LVHN Video Visit by downloading the MyLVHN app.

To schedule a non-COVID-19 visit, call your doctor’s practice or 888-402-LVHN (5846), or schedule on your MyLVHN account. You also can schedule an ExpressCARE Video Visit on the MyLVHN app or see a provider in-person at a convenient LVHN ExpressCARE location near you.

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