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How do you know the difference between a viral or bacterial infection?

(5 Posts)
iwasagirlinavillage Mon 30-Jan-17 10:25:35

Without the benefit of testing I mean.

Both DCs keep coming down with various illnesses. Both were premature, DD1 has breathing problems and DD2 is still quite little so I have taken them to the GP when it's seemed like more than just a cold, however on every occasion with DD2 I've been told immediately that it's a viral infection and to ride it out and been made to feel like I shouldn't have taken her. DD1 however has been given antibiotics 3 times since October but presented similarly (aside from increased breathing difficulties).

I don't want to keep wasting the time of the GP, so how can I tell the difference? What can the doctor tell immediately that indicates it's viral rather than bacterial? Whenever I've taken either of them to the pharmacy they've said to go to the GP, presumably because of their history. So what is the difference?

NootNoot Mon 30-Jan-17 16:27:40

Blood work is used to clearly differentiate but there are some clues.

Generally pus/exudate/discharge is bacterial. So tonsils covered in yellow muck are bacterial. Viral is often "just" inflammation- so a really red/sore throat but no discoloration.

On the chest side- you are listening for different "noises" with the stethoscope, thick crackly noises often indicate exudate which is more likely bacterial.

That said, toddler & teenager immune systems are working hard "learning" different illness & how to recognise them next time. So yes, you will often be told to ride it out, if we step in with drugs every time, the immune system never does its job fully & thus may be caught out again by the same bug. The presence of pus on tonsils as described earlier indicates the tonsils (part of the immune system) are overwhelmed & need some help.

Hope that makes sense

CanIGoToBedNow Mon 30-Jan-17 16:40:11

My dc have conjunctivitis. Reading the nhs website this morning their symptoms point to bacterial conjunctivitis. So make appt for DD who is 19 months to get some drops, only to be told by the dr that it is actually a viral infection. He said that the yellow snot that kids get when they have cold is viral and so it this yellow gunk they are currently producing from their eyes.

Nothing to be done apart from regular cleaning.

NHS website and dr contradicting themselves- nice. He also had a look and as per the government recommendations there is no need to keep of preschool. Rang preschool and they don't want DS until he is symptom free.

Oh joys 😬

PinkSwimGoggles Mon 30-Jan-17 16:46:19

you don't need to know.
most times the immune system will fight an infection, no matter if it's bacterial or viral.
a dr can do tests (swabs of blood tests) to see what it is (if not obvious) but treatment is only needed in severe cases.

iwasagirlinavillage Mon 30-Jan-17 19:42:30

Thanks Noot, that makes a lot of sense.

CanIGo I sympathise. DD2 currently has conjunctivitis and she's had what the GP thinks is a viral throat infection for about 10 days. I went to the pharmacy over the weekend about the conjunctivitis and the pharmacist said she'll need antibiotic eye drops and directed us to a walk in centre. The Dr at the walk in centre said the same as with your DC - it's viral, caused by the throat infection and it should clear on its own. Just clean with water. Since then she's got a fever - there seems to be a new symptom every day.

Pink - DD1 often ends up hospitalised when she gets an infection as it badly affects her breathing and she needs oxygen and nebulisers. If it's a viral infection that's often unavoidable but if it's bacterial then an early course of antibiotics can prevent another admission. That's what's happened this time - started with breathing problems on Thursday but managed to get an appointment with the GP on Friday morning who prescribed antibiotics. On Friday afternoon we were close to taking her to A&E as her breathing was seeming more difficult but the antibiotics seemed to kick in and we avoided another admission. I was wondering if there's some way of being able to tell myself to avoid wasting the GPs time if it is viral and just waiting and watching rather than being able to treat it in the case of it being bacterial.

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