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Bacterial, viral infections require different treatments

Posted at 8:48 AM, Apr 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-16 13:21:42-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — When we get sick, one of the first things doctors determine is whether we have a bacterial or viral infection. Many people get confused to what medication can treat each infection best.

There are two types of common infections, bacterial and viral. Both are treated differently. Bacterial infections include, "We're all familiar with strep throat, or staph infections and then there's pneumonia. Viral infections can be a variety of things, especially during flu season. You can get things like influenza and para-flu. And so our job is to determine which one is going on and recommend a good treatment for that," said Natalie Olendorf, a family nurse practitioner at Tucson Medical Center.

Antibiotics kill off bacteria, which means they are not going to be effective in getting rid of viruses.

"What's bad about taking antibiotics, when you have a viral infection, is that you can get resistant bacteria overtime. And the other thing is that antibiotics can cause side effects. They can cause diarrhea, they can cause stomach upset, they can cause allergic reaction, they cost money. So there's a whole slew of things that can come with using medications that aren't needed," said Olendorf.

A viral infection we're all familiar with is the common cold. Doctors try not to prescribe antibiotics when we are showing several cold-like symptoms.

"Its not a bacterial infection, so an antibiotic is not going to help you, its just actually maybe going to be harmful. So things like resting, lots of fluids, decongestants over the counter to try and dry up some of those secretions, Motrin or Tylenol to help with the body aches that you're having," said Olendorf.

Olendorf says she and other providers have had patients come in who self-diagnose, incorrectly, and think they need antibiotics. But antibiotics are not a one-size-fits-all medication.