You’re crook, but is a virus or bacteria to blame?

You’ve got a runny nose, killer sore throat and a nasty cough that’s just not going away. But is it a viral or bacterial infection? It can matter because antibiotics are only useful for bacterial infections. Taking antibiotics when you don’t need them, such as when you have a viral infection, means bacteria can become resistant to them and stop working effectively. This is known as antibiotic resistance and it is a problem worldwide. But how can you tell if you or your child has a bacterial or viral infection? It’s not always easy to tell, says Dr Jas Saini, a GP in the western suburbs of Sydney. “It requires keeping an eye on how you are feeling and how quickly you are recovering.” There’s no hard and fast rules, but there are some clues. “Bacterial infections can come on quite quickly and hit quite hard, but they usually stay localised to one place,” Saini says. “On the other hand, viral infections tend to come on more slowly with a single symptom and progress to other symptoms. They may start with a sore throat then develop into a dry cough that evolves to a chesty cough [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][where there’s phlegm or mucous]. Some people may get more widespread symptoms such as diarrhoea.” If you suddenly get a lot worse or your fever comes back, it might indicate a bacterial infection has developed on top of an initial viral infection. You can’t tell by the colour of snot if an infection is bacterial or viral, Saini says. “The colour of snot is more related to how long it has been there than the type of infection. Snot goes green over time.” It’s also tricky to tell a virus versus bacteria by the type of cough someone has. A chesty cough does not always mean the mucous is bacterial and coming from the lungs, he says. “It may be coming from the upper airways.” In most people, sore throats, coughs, earaches and sinusitis will get better by themselves – with you treating symptoms – and you do not need antibiotics. Saini recommends it’s helpful to manage symptoms by keeping yourself warm but not hot, having plenty of fluids and resting when it’s required. Over-the-counter medications can help you feel more comfortable. However he warned cough suppressants are not recommended in children under six and paracetamol is only required for fever in children if they are also feeling miserable. If you are prescribed antibiotics, or another medication, it’s important to take them as prescribed. It’s also important to “ask lots of questions” about why it is needed, potential side-effects and what happens if you do nothing, Saini says. Whatever type of infection you or your child has, it’s important to go to the doctor if you are worried. Saini says parents should take children to the doctor if there are signs the infection is more serious such as if:

  • they are lethargic,
  • are having difficulty breathing,
  • are blue or pale,
  • and for babies, if they have fewer than four wet nappies in 24 hours.

“I also tell parents their gut instinct is more powerful than any of these signs. If they feel something is not right they should go to the doctor.”

ABC News, 9 June 2015 ;http://www.abc.net.au/news/ ;[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]