How Do Doctors Tell The Difference Between a Viral and Bacterial Infection


Got prescribed antibiotics yesterday and I got to thinking about what an infection is, what causes infections, and so forth. When the doctor examined me he just looked at my skin and made the determination that I needed antibiotics. How did he know it wasn’t a viral infection? Would I be running a temperature? Can you not get a viral infection in/under your skin?

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3 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

Skin surface infections are more likely to be bacterial or fungal because the cells at the very top are already dead – useless to a virus that needs *living* cells to reproduce but still potential food for a hostile organism.

For infections that are harder to identify at a glance we test for the various chemicals or telltale genetic signatures of likely culprit bacteria and viruses.

Bacteria leave all sorts of metabolic waste and cellular toxins in their wake, viruses are much quieter and only leave their distinctive genetics.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Herpes, the most common viral skin infection, causes specific kinds of lesions which occur most commonly at transitions between mucous membranes and the epidermis (lips and genitals).

Bacteria are more likely than viruses to infect just the epidermis/dermis, and usually result in inflamation and/or abscesses.

If you have an infectious lesion in a place other than the lips or genitals, it is more likely due to bacteria.

A lab culture can differentiate between uncertain cases.

Anonymous 0 Comments

There are a few ways to tell the difference between a viral and bacterial infection. One way is to look at the symptoms. For example, a cold is usually caused by a virus, while strep throat is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Another way to tell the difference is by how long the infection lasts. Viral infections usually go away on their own after a week or two, while bacterial infections often require antibiotics to clear up.