What is the difference between Bacteria and Viruses?

Dear Uncle Max, can you tell me the difference between bacteria and viruses? If you talk about flu bacteria and flu viruses again. (Alexander Krüger from Werdau asks for clarification.)

Infectious diseases can be caused by a wide variety of pathogens. These are parasites, fungi and also bacteria or viruses. The Federal Center for Health Education explains on its website infektionsschutz.de very informative about all pathogens.

Viruses, according to this, consist of only one or more molecules and are sometimes surrounded by a protein coat. The molecules, the smallest units of a chemical compound made up of atoms, contain the genetic material (DNA or RNA) with the information necessary for their reproduction. Unlike bacteria, viruses do not consist of their own cells, nor do they have their own metabolism. You have no energy production of your own and no possibility for protein synthesis. Therefore, they are not, strictly speaking, living things.


Viruses are small, only about 20 to 300 nanometers in size. That’s why you don’t see them under a normal light microscope, you need an electron microscope. Viruses come in many different forms. Some look almost like tadpoles with a long tail, others are round or rod-shaped. They can cause harmless illnesses such as a cold or cold sores. Most gastrointestinal infections in this country are also caused by viruses. Serious infections such as HIV / AIDS, liver inflammation (hepatitis) or the 2019 coronavirus disease (Covid-19) are also caused by viruses. Viruses need host cells to multiply. Once the pathogens enter our body, they begin to multiply. The host cell dies and thousands of viruses are released that immediately search for new host cells such as blood cells or muscle cells. Viruses also cause many of the so-called classic childhood diseases such as chicken pox, measles or rubella. It is still unclear how viruses originated or where they come from.

Bacteria, on the other hand, are considered the oldest inhabitants on Earth. They can reproduce under many different conditions and, like viruses, can survive for a very long time, weeks or even months, in the environment or in the body itself. Bacteria are many times larger than viruses. They are about 0.1 to 700 micrometers in size and show a variety of shapes under the microscope, from spherical structures to branched wires or rods to cylindrical structures. Bacteria are single-celled organisms that are self-sufficient. In their cells they produce what they need to live. They have their own genetic makeup and metabolism. Bacteria can be found everywhere, for example in the air, in water or in food. Bacteria multiply through cell division. Usually the bacteria narrows its cell in the middle and divides in two. So it clones.


Well-known bacteria are, for example, salmonella and staphylococcus. Salmonella causes salmonellosis, a typical foodborne illness. Staphylococci, on the other hand, can cause abscesses or sepsis. But diseases such as tuberculosis, whooping cough, scarlet fever or urinary tract infections are also caused by bacteria. Some infections, such as diarrhea or pneumonia, can be caused by both viruses and bacteria. Using the words flu viruses and flu bacteria is not wrong, even though without a doctor’s diagnosis you usually do not know whether you “owe” your cold to bacteria or viruses. (MQU)

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