What is the difference?
It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between viral and bacterial infections because they can cause similar symptoms and can spread the same way.
- Bacteria are very common, and live on and inside our body. While most bacteria are actually very good for us, some can cause infections. Examples of bacterial infections include whooping cough, ear infections and urinary tract infection (UTI).
- Viruses are a germ that causes infection. There are hundreds of them and it’s common for children to have about 10 to 12 viral infections a year while their immune system is developing. More common viral infections include the common cold, flu, bronchitis, and chickenpox. If a certain infection is widespread in your area, your doctor might be able to diagnose it quickly; or they might need to do some extra tests to diagnose the infection.
If a certain infection is widespread in your area, your doctor might be able to diagnose it quickly; or they might need to do some extra tests to diagnose the infection.
How do they spread?
Bacteria and virus can enter the body in a variety of ways.
- Cuts and damaged skin surfaces such as eczema, cradle cap or unresolved nappy rash make it easy for harmful bacteria to enter the body and cause further illness and discomfort.
- Airborne bacteria and viruses transmitted through air droplets can be breathed in and cause illness. This is especially common in childcare centres or schools where children spend a lot of time together in close contact. Croup, bronchiolitis, tonsillitis, colds and flus are common forms of these airborne infections.
- Bacteria and viruses can also be swallowed from contaminated toys, foods and water, causing ear infections; urinary tract infections and tummy or bowel upsets such gastroenteritis, rotavirus and giardia.
Does my baby need antibiotics?
Antibiotics can only be prescribed by a doctor, and only for bacterial infections. Antibiotics are not designed to fight infections caused by viruses. Your doctor will decide whether it’s worth having antibiotics or whether it’s better for the body to have a go at fighting the infection first.
How to reduce the spread
Bacterial and viral infections can be highly contagious so the best way to prevent spreading them in your home is by:
- washing your hands thoroughly and often, especially after coughing or sneezing into them; or after cleaning any diarrhoea or vomit,
- coughing or sneezing into your elbow,
- not sharing cups or cutlery, and
- follow current health advice