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  Bacterial infection

Many illnesses are caused by infection caused by either bacteria or viruses. Bacteria are tiny single-celled organisms, and are among the most successful life forms on the planet. They range in habitat from deserts to icy slopes. Bacteria can be beneficial, but are also responsible for a range of illnesses. Many bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, although some strains are becoming more and more antibiotic-resistant.

Bacterial infection Inflammation
Bacterial infection

A virus is an even tinier microorganism that only reproduces inside a host's living cell. It is very difficult to kill a virus, and some of the most serious communicable diseases are viral in origin.

To cause disease, bacteria have to get into your body. The range of access routes for bacteria includes:

Contaminated food or water
Close contact with an infected person
Contact with the feces of an infected person
Breathing in the exhaled droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
Indirectly, by touching contaminated surfaces.

Viruses are spread from one person to another by:

Bites from infected animals or insects
Exposure to infected bodily fluids
Handling pets and animals is also a way for germs to be taken in by mouth.

Most bacteria move around with the aid of small lashing tails or by whipping their bodies from side to side. Under the right conditions, a bacterium reproduces by dividing. Each 'daughter' cell then divides in two, and so on, so that in just eight hours, a single bacterium can bloom into a population of some 500,000 or more. If the conditions don't suit the bacteria, some morph into a dormant state. They develop a tough outer coating and await the change of conditions. These hibernating bacteria are called spores. Spores are harder to kill than active bacteria because of their outer coating.

The body reacts to pathogenic bacteria by increasing local blood flow, and sending in antibodies from the immune system to attack and destroy the bacteria. Serious infections can be treated with antibiotics, which work by disrupting the bacterium's metabolic processes.

Although viruses can exist outside a host cell, they can't reproduce. Once inside a host cell, a virus either lays dormant for some time or starts reproducing immediately. The tough outer coating of a virus dissolves when inside the host cell. The virus then replicates its genetic material until the host cell is so full that it bursts. The released viruses then invade other host cells.

Viruses pose a considerable challenge to the body's immune system because they hide inside cells. This makes it difficult for antibodies to reach them. However, special immune system cells, called T-lymphocytes, can recognize and kill cells containing viruses, since the surface of infected cells is changed when the virus begins to multiply. Many viruses, when released from infected cells, will be effectively knocked out by antibodies, produced in response to infection or previous immunization.

Antiviral drugs work by interfering with the viral enzymes. Antiviral drugs are currently only effective against a few viral diseases, such as influenza, herpes, hepatitis B and C and HIV, but research is ongoing.

It is possible to vaccinate against many serious viral infections such as measles, mumps, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. However, some viruses - such as those that cause the common cold - are capable of mutating from one person to the next. Vaccination for these kinds of viruses is difficult, because the viruses have already changed their form by the time vaccines are developed.

Things to remember:

Many human illnesses are caused by infection with either bacteria or viruses. Most bacterial diseases can be treated with antibiotics, although antibiotic-resistant strains are starting to emerge. Viruses pose a challenge to the body's immune system because they hide inside cells. It is possible to be vaccinated against some of the major disease-causing viruses (such as measles and polio), as well as bacterial diseases such as Hemophilus influenza Type b (Hib), tetanus and whooping cough.

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Amoxicillin tablets


Amoxicillin, also known as Amoxil, and several other brand names, is a systemic antibacterial, and is used to treat infections caused by bacteria.

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Cipro tablets


Cipro, also called Ciprofloxacin, are part of a group of medicines called Fluoroquinolones, which are used to treat bacterial infections in many different parts of the body. They work by killing bacteria or preventing their growth. Be sure to tell your more...

Levaquin tablets


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Zithromax tablets


Zithromax, also called Azithromycin, is used to treat bacterial infections in many different parts of the body. It is also used to prevent Mycobacterium Avium Complex (MAC) disease in patients infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). It works more...

Levofloxacin pills


Levofloxacin is in a group of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones that works by fighting off bacteria in the body. It is used to treat bacterial infections that cause bronchitis, pneumonia, chlamydia, gonorrhea, skin infections, urinary tract infections, more...

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