If you’re like most people, you’ve wondered how bacteria differ from viruses and vice versa. To clear up the matter, let’s start with some definitions. According to the Center for Disease Control, National Center for Infectious Diseases, bacteria are single-celled organisms that live in and around us. Bacteria live everywhere: in the ground, water, and air. Bacteria may be harmless or even helpful, but in certain conditions they may cause illnesses such as strep throat, most ear infections, and bacterial pneumonia. A virus, on the other hand, is not a cell. Therefore viruses themselves are not alive. A virus does, however, reproduce itself within cells of living hosts. The virus is actually a bit of DNA or RNA wrapped in a coat of protein. People can become infected by either bacteria or viruses. An Infection is an invasion of an organism by a pathogen such as bacteria or viruses, and some infections lead to disease.
Do I have a viral infection or a bacterial infection?
According to the Center for Disease Control, two types of germs–bacteria and viruses–cause most infections. If you have a cold, cough, sinus infection, sore throat, bronchitis, or flu, chances are good that you have a virus. Only a doctor will know for certain if you have a virus or bacterial infection, though. A big difference is that antibiotics cannot cure viral infections; a virus has to run its course. When taken as prescribed, though, antibiotics can kill sensitive bacteria to cure bacterial infections. However, the CDC notes that the repeated and improper use of antibiotics can result in bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. That is one reason you should take antibiotics only after a doctor has made a specific diagnosis. Strep throat and some ear infections are bacterial infections that are best treated with antibiotics.
Natural Resistance-Building and Treatment
Since the most common ailments cannot–and should not–be treated with antibiotics, there is a powerful reason to prevent or at least reduce the infection’s symptoms and duration. To this end and to strengthen the immune system, more and more people are taking herbs and other natural remedies, especially during the cold and flu season, which usually runs from October through March.
One important principle to remember when looking for an herbal immune support solution is properly combined herbs work better than individual herbs alone. For centuries master herbalists have known this to be true. Proper balancing of the herbs can make each component more effective, while making each herbal component gentler on the body than taking the herb alone.
Echinacea is the herb that first comes to mind when the cold season begins. One study showed Echinacea can reduce at least 12 clinical symptoms of bad colds. Patients who took Echinacea suffered from fewer symptoms and got well faster, without side effects that over-the-counter medicines can give. At the first signs of either a viral or bacterial infection, start taking Echinacea, or better yet, a blend of immune supportive herbs including Echinacea. Though it will not prevent you from catching a cold, it will reduce your symptoms. It will also help build up your immune system so that you become less likely to catch another cold. Note that Echinacea should not be taken daily for long periods of time, so take it only on an as-needed basis during cold season. You can alternate it with goldenseal, which provides many of the same benefits. However, it is not recommended for those with autoimmune diseases. If you get a fever that lasts longer than 24 hours or your symptoms don’t abate in a few days, call a doctor.
Goldenseal contains a great number of nutrients that strengthen the immune system: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, manganese, Phosphorus, Potassium, Selenium, and Zinc, plus Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C. Goldenseal is useful for the flu, colds, allergies, ulcers, and disorders affecting the bladder, stomach, and . Take it at the first sign of symptoms in order to cut off the cold or flu at the pass. Since it should not be used alone for prolonged periods (over two weeks at a time), you can alternate it with Echinacea or other herbs, or you can take Goldenseal properly balanced with a careful blend of other immune supportive herbs. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and people suffering from high blood pressure or insomnia should not take it alone.
Astragalus is another herb that strengthens the immune system, to make the body more able to resist infections and to fight them off when they occur. In addition, astragalus combats fatigue that is often associated with colds and flu and increases stamina. Astragalus is also used for those with AIDS, cancer, and tumors.
Pau D’Arco is another beneficial herbal remedy for both viral and bacterial infections. It helps cure l yeast infections and treat allergies and AIDS. It is also taken to lower blood sugar levels and promote good digestion.
Garlic has been taken for thousands of years for protection against infections. You can take it for both bacterial and viral infections! Garlic has been proven to act against staph, strep, and salmonella organisms. Two researchers have found garlic able to protect against the influenza virus. It is effective in preventing, treating, and curing infectious diseases–probably due to its high nutritional value. When you ingest garlic, you’ll be ingesting high levels of protein, Vitamins A and C, Thiamine, Copper, Zinc, Iron, Calcium, Potassium, and more. And all these help boost your body’s immunity system. Garlic is not recommended for those who take blood thinners/anticoagulants.
Lomatium see our Immune Support – Lomatium Healthy Way University article. One herb that is especially helpful against viral infections is the herb Lomatium. If viral symptoms are present choose a combination high in Lomatium, or if it is not clear whether you are fighting a bacterial or a viral infection it might be wise to combine one that is high in Echinacea with another which concentrates on Lomatium.
Be good to yourself and enjoy life
These herbs will help make your body more resistant against infection and cut down on time you spend sick. Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about finding these herbs or about the right quantity to ingest to obtain the most effective, safe dose. And in the case of garlic, friends and co-workers will appreciate your taking the odorless version of garlic than eating the kind you cook with! All of these herbs are available in easy-to-take liquid and/or capsule forms. Some, such as Echinacea, are available individually, while others are best taken when they are blended with other herbs. Protect yourself against harmful bacteria and viruses! Life is too short to spend it sick in bed!
Balch, Phyllis, CNC; Balch, James, M.D. Prescription for Nutritional Healing. New York: Avery Books, 2000.
Mindell, Earl, Ph.D. Earl Mindell’s New Herb Bible. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.
Mowrey, Daniel, Ph.D. The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, Inc., 1986.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
FDA Consumer magazine, July-August 2002
The Battle of the Bugs: Fighting Antibiotic Resistance