Virus or bacteria? Know how to fight your enemy

When you're feeling sick, answering the
When you're feeling sick, answering the "What do I have?" question is key to knowing when to use antibiotics. But nailing it down is tricky. Illustration: Chris Ware Tribune News Service

[Star Tribune, January 13, 2015] Pinpointing the culprit behind your winter crud — virus or bacteria — is the first step in understanding how to treat it. At a time when public health officials warn that antibiotics are overused, getting the right diagnosis takes on new significance. Antibiotics work on bacterial infections but not on viruses.

“It boils down to that one decision: Are you going to treat with antibiotics or not?” explained Dr. Frank Rhame, a physician specializing in infectious disease at Allina Health Uptown Clinic in Minneapolis. “It’s not always easy. You don’t want to miss a bacterial infection, and you don’t want to overtreat a viral infection. But we’re helped by the fact that they’re usually viral.”

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