Infection: Bacterial or viral?
Antibiotics, colds and flu, viruses, sore throats, coughing, temperatures.... it's that time of year again.
Ahh – winter is here, again, and as I have driven to work in the last month, I have marvelled at the orangey, reddie, browney, earthy-toned autumnal colours cascading off the surrounding trees. Already I hear sniffles, coughs, throat clearings and nose blowing all around me. Friends on Facebook are claiming they have gone down with the “flu” and I have taken several calls from mothers with children off sick.
Every winter it is the same – people getting sick despite a plethora of remedies to support a healthy immune system.
What's the difference between a bacterial infection and a viral infection?
One of the more common questions I get asked is "is it bacterial or viral, and how can you tell the difference, and do they need different treatments."
It is mostly hard to tell, and even doctors don’t like to guess at it unless the swab or other bodily material comes back negative for bacteria – then they might pronounce it a virus.
Typically a virus is a short lasting seven day occurrence that can be characterised by a temperature, hot and cold sweats, and that all-pervasive aching in the muscles and joints. Sometimes there may be a sore throat or runny nose or even a cough and sometimes there may not. You may just feel yuck, listless and off your game. Of course a viral infection can weaken your immune system and allow bacteria to sneak in and have its way.
From my experience a majority of winter chills are mostly due to viruses.
However these symptoms may be bacterial in origin as well, though most nuisance bacterial infections in winter tend to settle on the chest or infect your sinuses. Sometimes they can infect the throat – the dangerous one of course being strep throat.
It has been said that if the sputum or mucous is green, yellow or greyish that this indicates a bacterial infection – which highly likely to be true, and that if it is clear that it is a viral infection. However even a clear runny nose or coughed up transparent globule may still be a bacterial infection.
If you are not sure
If you are in doubt, please go to the doctor to get all symptoms checked especially with kids. If, like me, you have a mental map of how your child’s immune system works and you know their weak areas (ie one of mine gets a sore throat when run down, and another gets a blocked, snotty nose), then anything that deviates from this I will get checked out.
So does it matter whether it is bacterial or viral?
Viruses infect the cells of your body, injecting their genetic material into cells to take over the function of the cell, whereas bacteria land and try to kill your body cells enmasse.
So does it matter which it is? Yes and no. No, because whether or not it is a bacteria or virus mostly does not change what is given from a natural health perspective, especially if you are trying to support the immune system to fight off nuisance colds, coughs and chills. If the infection becomes serious and life threatening, then the medical system will need to know what exactly is infecting you so they can correctly target the respective invading body.
A key point to make is that many nuisance viral infections left unsupported can become a bacterial infection. A lot of people tough out their head cold or sore throat or dry cough, and battle on with life as normal completely ignoring the fact their body nutrition is crying for a helping hand. As I write, I have a friend who has played out this very scenario and now has a heavy chest infection and is on antibiotics.
Why does it not matter for the average cold or flu?
Under viral or bacterial attack, your deep immune response is activated and starts the march to victory. This deep response needs three things;
- A signal to get going
- Fuel to feed it
- Materials to reinforce, repair and repel infected areas
- Vitamin C still stands supreme, both as a preventative and as a support during both types of infections. It provides fuel for the immune response and can help repair damaged tissue in infected areas such as the throat, chest and nasal passages. During times of infection the adrenal glands (which provide fuel for the immune response) use up vitamin C at a great rate of knots.
- Zinc and Vitamin A help support the surfaces of the nose, chest and throat as well, regardless of whether it is bacterial or viral. They fit into category number 3. They help secrete a substance onto these surfaces to fight off infections.
- Selenium is a brilliant nutrient that has a reputation of acting inside the cell to repel viral infections. Interestingly enough viruses try and pump selenium out of the cell when they are on the attack.
- Substances such as “PRP colostrum extract” or “Lactobacillus rhamnosus (DV strain) lysate powder” are potent stimulants of the deep immune response. Taking these at the start of a cold or flu will signal the immune system to respond quicker. Taking them at a maintenance dose during winter will help keep the immune system on the lookout for bacterial or viral invasions.
Ivy Leaf extract helps support lung heath when infected with either bacteria or viruses.
Gut Based Immunity
Up to 70 - 80% of the immune response starts in the gut, and this is regardless of whether it is viral or bacterial. Healthy levels of good bowel bacteria help the gut keep the immune system clear and ready to go.
In winter people are more likely to eat stodgier food because it feels warmer and more hearty against the cold and damp. However this creates more work for the gut bacteria, taking them away from their much needed immune functions. Taking probiotics during winter helps keep this part of the immune system chugging along at its optimum.
Taking too many antibiotics during winter decreases these friendly gut bacteria and can put an already weakened immune system more on the back foot. So if you are looking at your second or third course of antibiotics consider dosing yourself with probiotics.
Whether bacterial or viral your deep immune response is the same and essentially needs what is described above. Using them should help support your immune system throughout this winter. If you need specific information tailor made for you and your family please call us on our naturopathic FREE on 0800 622 533.