Virus particle close-up, comparing size to bacteria. Virus particle close-up, comparing size to bacteria.

Are Viruses Smaller Than Bacteria? A Comparative Study

We all read about viruses and bacteria in our textbooks at school age, right? But how many of us hardly remember what they are actually? Also, that content is very limited to the class level. I think only the students who choose science as mainstream for higher studies get to learn about viruses in detail.

But don’t worry, in this article, I’ll tell some interesting facts that you might not know before. Basically, viruses and bacteria are single-celled microorganisms or invisible to the naked eye and can be found in any living and even non-living matter. They enter the human body via cuts, contaminated food, and water, by coming in contact with a contaminated person, or by indirectly touching infected surfaces. Viruses can also spread by coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and bites from insects.

Let Me Explain to You About Viruses and Bacteria Separately

Viruses are just pieces of genetic material, RNA or DNA. These do not have a body of their own, unlike bacteria. They need a host cell to actually adapt to their machinery and use it along with their protein to grow, survive, and multiply. Some of the diseases caused by viral infections include COVID-19, Chickenpox, HIV, and even the common cold.

The medicines that are used to treat viruses are called antiviral medicines. The working mechanism of antiviral medicines is that they focus on eradicating the virus cells rather than the host cells. So, it requires the help of the immune system of the infected human to flush out the infectious disease cells. Some antivirals also function to boost the immune system.

Coming to bacteria, are single-celled organisms that can survive in the most extreme of habitats like deserts or ice slopes. They have a very strong yet simple working model that helps them thrive across all terrains. Bacteria are of two types broadly, pathogenic bacteria are the ones that cause bacterial infections and harm the human body. The other type is the good bacteria like the ones found in our gut, these help in digestion and are essential for the human body.

Some pathogenic bacterial infections can be treated using antibiotics, but eventually due to the increased use of antibiotics. Now we can even spot some antibiotic-resistant bacteria. I’m sure you know about diseases like Strep throat, Tuberculosis, Salmonellosis, and Tetanus. Do you know that bacteria causes all such dangerous diseases?

Let’s Do a Comparative Study of Viruses and Bacteria

When we compare bacteria and viruses size-wise, we have to keep in mind that bacteria are comparatively more complex creatures than viruses. This is because they can perform all their functions on their own, even reproduction, so they have to have enough organs and machinery to support these functions.

Viruses on the other hand are very small, they do not have the required machinery for living as they feed off from their host.

So, even the biggest virus would be smaller than the smallest bacteria. Did you get that?

On the basis of their shape, bacteria can broadly be divided into four types which are listed below.

  • Cocci– Bacterial infections like Gonorrhea are caused by spherically shaped bacteria which are called cocci. These can be in pairs, long lines, or even in clusters.
  • Bacilli– Human illnesses like typhoid and cystitis are caused by rod-shaped bacteria called bacilli.
  • Vibrio– Bacterial infections caused by it include diseases like cholera and diarrhea. These are small and shaped like a comma.
  • Spirochaetes– Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis are caused by tiny spiral-shaped bacteria which are called Spirochaetes.

If I tell you about the working of bacteria, since they have all the organs necessary for their survival, use the process of binary fission for reproduction. This process involves the bacteria splitting into two halves, and this happens very quickly. So, they multiply in a very short span of time. They build their own DNA and a new cell wall, the parent splits into two each part having its own share of genetic material and cell wall.

On the other hand, Viruses are basically leaches or pathogens which suck on the lives of other cells, damaging them and causing diseases. They first break into a living cell and then make the cell replicate the viral genetic material, hence multiplying the virus in the meantime the virus moves from one cell to the other.

This way it multiplies and infects a lot of cells, thus creating a very complex situation inside the host organism’s body. Although they are very selective with their hosts, some only infect bacteria, some only infect plants, and some only humans.

However, diagnosis of both is essential as soon as possible. Sometimes the symptoms can be similar and delayed diagnosis would lead to delayed treatment which in turn might make the entire case complicated. For diagnosis the doctor would perform the following; take your medical history, take a blood sample and urine test, or a physical examination.

Although with the advancement in medical sciences and technology, vaccines for some of the most severe viral infections like measles, and mumps have now become possible, there are still new viruses that can affect the living cells.

Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B have proper vaccines available but for Hepatitis C there is still work going on. However, WHO promises an 80% reduction of Hepatitis C (HCV) infections with the HCV elimination strategy by the year 2030.

The problem with viral infection is that most viruses are capable of mutation, so they basically change their essential machinery and system from one person to another. Now what happens is that when an antiviral medicine is formulated it is made for a particular strain of virus.

So when the virus mutates it might render the medicine useless against the virus, thus helping it affect the living cell again and reproduce inside it.

Making vaccines for all viral infections thus becomes difficult. Even the common cold that comes once every 5-6 months is cured by different medicines for the very same reason. Each time the strain changes a little bit and they also tend to develop resistance against the drug.

Many viruses and bacteria can be found in our everyday lives, in different living organisms. Viruses as we have seen are smaller than bacteria although both are very small when we try to see them using our eyes. These can be very helpful or dangerous depending upon the type and their action on our body.

Although our immune system can fight off minor infections, we need special medications to treat anything new or severe.

Last Updated on May 5, 2024 by Pragya

Authors

Anushree Khandelwal
Pragya
  1. Enlightens the facts about the viruses and bacteria. All these information is needed badly now a days to avoid diseases.

  2. The article is so informative and straightforward. The concepts were very clearly broken down in an easily understandable way. Also I love that the examples were so relatable to my everyday experiences. After this i feel like I could teach about viruses myself.

  3. I found this article on the size comparison between viruses and bacteria quite informative. The explanation of how these microorganisms enter the body and spread is valuable. As someone with limited knowledge in this area, I appreciate the clarity in understanding the differences. The article provides a solid overview for those new to the topic.

  4. The explanation of virus and bacteria is very smooth. this article gives the full information about the difference as well as the functions of virus and bacteria. This is a very simple knowledge and I’m impressed how simply we can explain it.

    1. This article is very helpful to know about the viruses are smaller than bacteria. Bacteria are usually larger and more complex than viruses.They’re considered as infectious agents rather than living organisms because they lack the cellular machinery to reproduce on their own. I have learned a lots of thing about viruses and bacteria .

  5. This article provides a comprehensive insight into the intricate world of viruses and bacteria, emphasizing the unique challenges in treating viral infections due to their mutation capabilities. The detailed exploration of bacterial shapes and reproductive mechanisms adds a fascinating layer to understanding these microscopic entities, underscoring the critical need for timely diagnosis and targeted interventions in the face of evolving infectious threats.

  6. “Clear and concise explanation on the size differences between viruses and bacteria! This article provides valuable insights into the microscopic world, helping debunk common misconceptions. Understanding these distinctions is crucial, especially in the context of health and microbiology. Great science education piece! #Microbiology #ScienceExplained”

  7. This article provides a comprehensive insight into the intricate world of viruses and bacteria, emphasizing the unique challenges in treating viral infections due to their mutation capabilities. “Clear and concise explanation on the size differences between viruses and bacteria! This article provides valuable insights into the microscopic world, helping debunk common misconceptions. Understanding these distinctions is crucial, especially in the context of health and microbiology. Great science education piece!

  8. This article is a straightforward and to the point understanding of viruses and bacteria. It breaks down the basics, telling us viruses are like genetic material needing a host cell to survive, while bacteria are the single cell organisms of the microscopic world that can survive in extreme habitats. Very useful part is about antibiotic treatment of bacterial infections and viral infections are treated with antiviral medicines. I appreciated the info on bacteria shapes—I didn’t know they are in so many styles ! It is discussed on the challenges in developing vaccines for viral infection. Who knew it was such a challenge? In the end, it is a useful interesting informative about all these invisible virus and bacteria that can mess our life.

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