Bacteria vs. Viruses: Similarities and Differences

Posted on April 13, 2020

Being a complex and intricate study field, biology provides scientists with numerous issues throughout the history of its development. With the relentless innovations in technology, biologists became able to differentiate various living organisms and its biological characteristics. Among the central phenomena that cause significant interest within the research community is the study of microscopic organisms. In particular, because of their substantial influence on humanity, biology scientists delve into the living organisms that either disrupt or bolster people’s health. In this regard, considerable attention is drawn to the analysis of bacteria and viruses. As these organisms are the most common pathogens, humans have to differentiate bacteria and viruses to treat the diseases effectively and improve the immune system. Despite having several similarities, these microscopic organisms vary in their habitation, appearance, and reproduction form. Therefore, due to these contrasting features, bacteria and viruses cause different diseases that necessitate disparate approaches to the latter’s treatment.

First and foremost, one should understand the essence and similar characteristics of both types of microbes. The central factor that makes bacteria and viruses comparable is that both are classified as microscopic organisms. Besides, bacteria and viruses interfere with the cells of other living organisms, thus being either beneficial or harmful to the latter (Panawala 1). These common characteristics imply that both types of microorganisms can be misinterpreted for one another when people are affected either by bacteria or viruses.

Another similarity between bacteria and viruses is the environment where the microscopic organisms can support their lives. In particular, both microbes can be found within living organisms or in inorganic environments. Although both types of microorganisms may infect eukaryotic organisms, including plants and animals, viruses are also capable of infecting prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria. (Bailey). In addition, both types of microorganisms can resist the harsh conditions of specific habitats. For instance, some viruses and bacteria are able to survive on objects of daily use and even adapt to contaminated waters or chemical environments. From this perspective, microbes wield high survivability qualities that enable their presence and development in diverse conditions.

Nevertheless, bacteria and viruses are substantially different in their structural peculiarities and external appearance. Bacteria are classified as prokaryotes, which belong to a category of unicellular microorganisms, and have the features of living organisms. The bacterial structure is composed of organelles and DNA, which are located in the cytoplasm and encircled by a cell wall (Bailey). Thanks to the performing of vital functions by organelles, bacteria receive environmental energy and reproduce. Contrary to these microorganisms, viruses are not categorized as cells but are defined as either DNA or RNA particles that are enclosed in a protein core (Panawala 4). Taking this into account, a virus is not considered to be a living form. In fact, these microbes exist in the form of independent particles called virions and can be found between living and non-living organisms (Bailey). Despite containing the genetic material, a virus does not have organelles that would provide them with vital functions. As a result, bacteria and viruses have drastically different structures, which explain their dissimilar existence and spreading.

When it comes to external appearance, there are substantial differences between the two types of microorganisms. As for the shape, it varies depending on the specific bacterium or virus. Thus, most common bacteria are spherical, rod-shaped, or spiral, whereas typical viruses have the form of polyhedral or helically shaped capsids (Bailey). The difference is also evident in the sizes of microbes. For instance, while the average diameter of bacteria ranges from 200 to 1000 nanometers, the typical size of viruses is only 20-400 nanometers (Bailey). What is more, the largest representatives of bacteria can be seen without the help of a microscope. Contrary to that, the cap of size for viruses is only 1000 nanometers (Bailey). Hence, a considerable difference in the external appearance of bacteria and viruses directly influences their functioning and interaction with other living organisms.

Next, the important process that differentiates the two types of microorganisms is reproduction. Generally, bacteria reproduce asexually through the means of binary fission. This reproduction process implies replication of a single cell and the latter’s division into two identical daughter cells (Bailey). Such reproduction is impossible for viruses as they do not contain organelles capable of copying viral components. Thus, a common way of viruses’ reproduction is viral replication that involves the injection of genetic material of a virus into a host cell (Bailey). As a result, viral particles are copied to a new environment and begin the creation of identical viral genes. After a virus matures, it destroys the cell and releases new particles in order to infect other cells (Panawala 7). With such diverse reproduction processes, bacteria and viruses differently affect host organisms, essentially causing dissimilar types of diseases.

Regardless of their dissimilarities, both types of microbes can spread among other living organisms in the same ways. Some of the central channels that facilitate the distribution of either bacteria or viruses are connected with human interaction. For example, microbes can infect another person via one’s coughing and sneezing (Ambardekar). Moreover, a favorable environment of the spreading of both bacteria and viruses is direct physiological contact. As an example, microbes can infect a healthy person in the process of kissing or sex act with an already infected human (Ambardekar). Microorganisms are also distributed via people’s contact with infected creatures. Thus, bacterial and viral infections can spread to humans from their pets or livestock or even insects such as fleas (Ambardekar). Lastly, microbes can infect other living organisms through contaminated objects. For instance, people can get infected by bacteria or viruses in the process of food or water consumption and through physical contact with filthy surfaces (Ambardekar). Hence, despite their differences, both bacterial and viral infections spread to other living organisms via similar means.

Another aspect that unites bacteria and viruses is their diverse impact on the host organism’s health. In particular, depending on the peculiarities of specific microbes, bacterial, or viral infections can be acute, chronic, or latent (Ambardekar). When it comes to acute infections, they refer to the microorganisms’ ability to affect other organisms for a short period of time. Contrary to them, chronic infections caused by bacteria or viruses can last for years, resulting in severe illnesses in the host organism. As for the latent infections, they are the most dangerous to health due to the concealed influence on people. In other words, such viral and bacterial impact can have no evident symptoms at first but leads to the adverse deterioration of health after months or years (Ambardekar). As a result, microbes are especially dangerous because of the wide range of potential diseases that they cause, as both of the microorganisms can have either mild or severe implications for human health.

What is more, bacterial and viral infections can cause a variety of similar symptoms, which may hinder the correct diagnostics and treatment of the illness. Among the main shared symptoms of diseases caused by bacteria and viruses are sneezing, coughing, inflammation, and vomiting (Ambardekar). As the most common implication of any illness, fever is not an equally characteristic aspect of the bacterial and viral impact. This symptom always accompanies bacterial infection, whereas a viral disease does not necessarily cause fever (Panawala 7). Nevertheless, common symptoms for microbes’ interference with other living organisms are the immune system’s tackling of hostile influence. With these implications, both bacteria and viruses can be incorrectly treated while wielding different ways of responding to medications.

Despite all the similarities between bacterial and viral infections, there are substantial differences in the illnesses that they cause. Firstly, these microbes affect the host organisms on varying scales. In particular, while bacteria cause localized infections, viruses affect other living organisms systematically (Panawala 7). In other words, bacterial infection deteriorates one specific organ, whereas viral microbes attack the whole body of a living being. Secondly, the difference in the microbes’ reproduction affects the duration of illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses. As viral infection enters the host cells, destroys them, and travels to the other ones, it evokes diseases that last for two to ten days (Panawala 7). Contrary to that, bacteria’s binary fission implies that these microbes can continue their existence for a more extended period. Considering this fact, illnesses caused by a bacterial infection can last for longer than ten days (Panawala 7). Hence, microbes wield different principles of influencing an organism, which ultimately results in the creation of dissimilar diseases.

When it comes to bacteria, they negatively impact a living organism via attacking its cells. The central principle of pathogenic bacteria is that they destroy one’s cells by producing toxins. Among some of the most known bacterial illnesses are food poisoning, pneumonia, meningitis, and tuberculosis (Bailey). As for the viral infection, it spreads to a living organism’s cell and takes control of it. With the help of the cell’s vital processes, the virus replicates itself until the cell bursts (Bailey). After that, microbes infect all nearby cells and repeat the destruction process in the new environment. Besides, some viral infections can modify the host cells, resulting in the development of cancer within a living being. Viruses cause a wide variety of adverse illnesses, ranging from the flu and chickenpox to Ebola and Zika virus diseases (Bailey). Taking the differences in the infecting principles and the caused conditions into account, the prevention of bacteria and viruses spreading as well as the treatment of their implications require different approaches.

In order to prevent bacterial infection, one has to avoid contact with contaminated environments and infected organisms. An effective way of protection from the harmful bacteria is frequent sanitizing of oneself, such as washing and drying of hands (Bailey). In addition, the spread of bacterial diseases can be prevented by vaccination. However, viruses are much more resistant and can be prevented only by the preemptive strengthening of the immune system (Ambardekar). Therefore, vaccines are the only means of prevention of viral infections.

The treatment process of both types of microbes is also substantially different. In particular, the most common way of dealing with bacterial infection is the intake of antibiotics (Bailey). These drugs proved to be very effective at destroying pathological bacteria, thus stopping their spreading and deterioration of a living organism’s health. However, the excessive use of antibiotics has led to some bacteria’s resistance to such medicine (“Differences Between Bacterial And Viral Infection”). What is more, there is also a phenomenon of “superbugs,” which refers to the bacteria that developed resistance to multiple antibiotics. Such a fact necessitates contemporary scientists to introduce new and potent means of dealing with bacterial infections and diseases.

Unlike bacterial illnesses, diseases caused by viruses cannot be cured by antibiotics. The resistance of a living organism’s immune system is crucial for the overcoming of the viral infection. Only some of the diseases caused by viruses can be treated by specific antiviral drugs (Bailey). Thus, while the immune system fights the viral infection off, it results in the development of negative symptoms within the living organisms. From this perspective, infected people can treat the implications of the virus attack via the intake of the medicine that treats the symptoms (“Differences Between Bacterial And Viral Infection”). However, such an approach will not cure the virus itself; the latter can be eradicated by building a robust immune system.

In conclusion, both bacteria and viruses are microorganisms that impact other living beings. The common features of these microbes are that they interfere with the host cells and can exist in the same environments. Despite these facts, bacteria and viruses have different structures and sizes. While bacteria are considered living organisms, viruses are neither living nor non-living creatures. This influences the reproduction form of both microrganisms; bacteria reproduce through binary fission and do not require a host cell, whereas viruses can only replicate themselves in a living being’s cell. When it comes to the detrimental influence of both microbes, they share the ways of spreading among other organisms, lead to various complications for the host’s health, and have similar symptoms of the caused diseases. However, bacteria affect a specific organ or a body part, whereas viruses disrupt the whole organism. Therefore, microbes have different principles of interacting with a living being and cause dissimilar types of illnesses. As a result, bacterial and viral infections are approached differently in terms of their prevention and treatment. All things considered, bacteria and viruses wield intricate characteristics; the similarities between them hinder the identification of bacterial or viral diseases, while their differences require dissimilar approaches to coping with illnesses caused by these microorganisms.

Works Cited
Ambardekar, Nayana. “Bacterial Vs. Viral Infections: Causes And Treatments”. Webmd, 2019,

Bailey, Regina. “Differences Between Bacteria And Viruses”. Thoughtco, 2019,

“Differences Between Bacterial And Viral Infection”. Healthdirect.Gov.Au, 2018,

Panawala, Lakna. “Difference Between Bacteria And Virus”. 2017,

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