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The effects of other organisms on the human body lead to a variety of infectious conditions. The discovery of antimicrobial agents significantly changed the way healthcare views viruses and bacteria. However, many problems related to the treatment of infections still exist in clinical practice. Improper use of antibiotics – drugs that help treat bacterial infections – creates therapy-resistant organisms (Arcangelo, Peterson, Wilbur, & Reinhold, 2017).
Moreover, it weakens patients with viral infections, increasing the possibility of complications. Therefore, it is vital for healthcare providers to understand the differences between bacterial and viral conditions to prescribe treatment. Viral and bacterial infections differ because of their initiators; antibiotics can be utilized to kill bacteria but do not affect viral diseases, while antivirals are prescribed to suppress the activity of viruses.
Categories of Antimicrobial Agents
The classification of antimicrobial agents includes major groups that are divided into specific types of medications. These types include antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic agents. Each group deals with particular organisms: bacteria, fungi, viruses, or parasites. Furthermore, each broad category incorporates multiple drug types, and each of them has a purpose as well as strengths and weaknesses.
For example, antiviral agents include medications for treating retroviruses (HIV), respiratory viruses, herpes, and hepatitis (Arcangelo et al., 2017; Sweeney, Wong, & Khatri, 2016). Antiviral drugs have specific uses, and one type cannot be used to treat multiple viruses. However, as some microbial organisms cause a number of conditions, these health issues can be cared for with one antiviral agent. For instance, herpes-related conditions may appear in different forms, but the offered vaccines may be similar in their contents.
Antibacterial agents also present a wide variety of drugs, since different organisms respond to particular medications. For example, beta-lactam antibiotics such as aminoglycosides and glycopeptides are used to treat aerobic gram-negative bacilli (Arcangelo et al., 2017; World Health Organization, 2016). Other antibiotics are anti-anaerobic agents (for aerobic bacilli), carbapenems, cephalosporins of the first, second, third, and fourth generation, penicillin, fluoroquinolones, lipopeptides, macrolides, oxazolidinones, rifampin, streptogramins, sulfonamides, tetracyclines, and vancomycin (Arcangelo et al., 2017). The presented variety shows that bacteria differ significantly in their reactions to drugs.
Differences Between Viral and Bacterial Infections
Many infections have similar clinical presentations, but they have fundamental differences based on their initiator. Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria that invade one’s body and cause an inflammatory response. This reaction to the bacteria’s spread is usually local – it manifests itself with pain, swelling, redness, and warmth. For example, sinusitis is a bacterial infection that closely resembles a viral cold (Arcangelo et al., 2017).
However, its longevity and severity are much harsher than those of a viral condition. Moreover, the pain that is present in sinusitis is local – the person feels facial pain and fever due to the infection. The impact of bacteria is also often characterized by odors and swelling (Arcangelo et al., 2017). It is vital to note that severe bacterial infections should be treated with antibiotics to reduce the risk of complications that may be life-threatening (Arcangelo et al., 2017). Antibiotics help patients to kill bacteria, eliminating the cause of the symptoms.
Antiviral infections, on the other hand, are not as painful or apparent as bacterial ones. When a virus enters the body, it can influence multiple systems at the same time. Viruses invade tissues to make replicate viruses instead of healthy cells (Arcangelo et al., 2017). In a contrast to bacteria, viruses cannot survive or reproduce without a host. Each virus has its own process of initiating replication – some use cytoplasm, while others replicate their enzymes (Arcangelo et al., 2017).
The symptoms of viral infections are also less local and acute, and only some of these conditions are painful. For example, the common cold is a viral infection, characterized by nasal congestion, fever, cough, fatigue, and other symptoms (Arcangelo et al., 2017). Nonetheless, some viruses (such as HIV) can significantly alter the person’s response to other conditions, weakening the immune system. The treatment of viral infections focuses on symptom management and suppression of virus activity since antiviral agents do not kill viruses.
The Importance of Proper Identification
The difference in effects of antimicrobial agents is the main reason why proper diagnosis is vital to the person’s health. Bacteria can be eliminated from the body – therefore, timely use of antibiotics can prevent serious complications (Burnham, Lane, & Kollef, 2015).
Viruses are not affected by antibiotics in any way, and improper use of drugs can weaken the body, exposing it to the infection further. The lack of antiviral treatments, in this case, can lead to viral activity and significant alterations to one’s immune system. Some viruses may turn healthy cells into malignant ones, increasing risks for cancer. Without proper treatment, HIV endangers the immune system and leads to the development of AIDS (Arcangelo et al., 2017). Thus, it is essential for the healthcare provider to determine the source of the problem to prescribe the best antimicrobial agent.
Healthcare professionals should understand the distinction between viral and bacterial infections in order to treat both disease types. Viruses cannot survive without a host, but once they enter the body, they alter their cells to replicate viruses. Bacteria can survive on their own, and malevolent bacteria cause an inflammatory response in the body. The classification of antimicrobial agents includes specific categories for antibiotics and antivirals. A proper diagnosis is vital for preventing complications and the formation of malignant cells.
Arcangelo, V. P., Peterson, A. M., Wilbur, V., & Reinhold, J. A. (Eds.). (2017). Pharmacotherapeutics for advanced practice: A practical approach (4th ed.). Ambler, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
Burnham, J. P., Lane, M. A., & Kollef, M. H. (2015). Impact of sepsis classification and multidrug resistance status on outcome among patients treated with appropriate therapy. Critical Care Medicine, 43(8), 1580-1586.
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Sweeney, T. E., Wong, H. R., & Khatri, P. (2016). Robust classification of bacterial and viral infections via integrated host gene expression diagnostics. Science Translational Medicine, 8(346), 346ra91.
World Health Organization. (2016). Critically important antimicrobials for human medicine. Web.