Open Accessibility Menu

Virus or Bacteria? What Made me Sick?

  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Tim D. Bohlender, MD
Virus or Bacteria? What Made me Sick?

Updated: January 9, 2023


With the cold and flu season in full swing, people may request antibiotics for themselves or their children when they visit their healthcare provider. Before you look at antibiotics as the cure-all, remember that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotics aren’t always the answer, and, when used incorrectly, actually don’t help you feel better.

Antibiotics are medicines that fight infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one biological cell. Antibiotics work by targeting and killing harmful bacteria. Common infections caused by bacteria that should be treated with antibiotics include:

  • Strep Throat

  • Pneumonia

  • Urinary Tract Infections

  • and Skin Infections.

Some of these illnesses are diagnosed by tests and others are diagnosed by physical exam findings.

Antibiotics only work on illnesses caused by bacterial infections, and don’t have any effect on illnesses caused by viruses, such as colds, flu, runny noses, many sinus infections, and some ear infections. A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses infect all life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria.

Antibiotics also come with their own set of side effects, such as diarrhea, dizziness and nausea. If they are over-used they can lead to serious issues, such as antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics normally work by killing bacteria. Sometimes not all of the bacteria are killed, and the strongest ones can grow and spread. A person can get sick again, and this time the bacteria are harder to kill because the antibiotics no longer work. This is called antibiotic resistance and makes some infections very hard to control. Resistance can make you sick longer, requiring more doctor’s visits and drugs that are even stronger. The more often you use an antibiotic, the greater the chance that the bacteria will become resistant.

Each year in the United States, at least 2 million people get infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 die as a result.

Respiratory viruses usually go away in a week or two without treatment. While antibiotics cannot treat infections caused by viruses, there are still a number of things you or your child can do to relieve some symptoms and feel better while a viral illness runs its course. Over-the-counter medicines may also help relieve some symptoms. Ask your healthcare professional about the best way to feel better while your body fights off the virus.

The bottom line: don’t be upset if your health care provider does not give you an antibiotic. They know that antibiotics won’t provide effective treatment for viral infections.

Visit the Walk-in Clinic for fast, convenient healthcare for the whole family. Located across the hall from the Campbell County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, the Walk-in Clinic is open seven days a week (365 days a year) for colds, sore throats and other minor injuries or illness. Now you can save your place in line by visiting our website. Choose an available time and we’ll save your spot without having to wait in the waiting room. You’ll get a text message when it’s time to come to the Walk-in Clinic. Learn more at

In loving memory of Dr. Tim D. Bohlender, a physician with Campbell County Health Walk-In Clinic who passed away February 16, 2022

  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Family Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Complex and Internal Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Kid Clinic, Campbell County Medical Group Nephrology, Campbell County Medical Group Pediatrics, Campbell County Medical Group Walk-In Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Medical Group Wright Clinic & Occupational Health, CCH News, CCMG News, CCMH News, Patient Care, Wellness