Understanding a Bacterial Infection

The word bacteria immediately brings up a very negative connotation for many people when they hear it because there’s usually an association to becoming ill. That’s unfortunate, because while there certainly are bacteria that can make you ill, there are also plenty of beneficial bacteria that we benefit from. The millions of bacteria in your digestive tract provide an invaluable service.

Any time someone cringes when they hear the word bacteria it’s infectious bacteria that they’re thinking about. Streptococcus (strep throat), staphylococcus (staph infection), E.coli and others – those are the bad guys that you’ll want to have no part of. When you get a bacterial infection it’s important to keep all of this in perspective and follow the prescribed course of action suggested by your physician.

When it comes to what to take for one of these infections, antibiotics are wonderful medicines. They’ll usually be able to overpower and knock out even the hardiest of infections.

Whenever you fall ill your body will usually make you very aware of it, and in short order. However, being able to identify bacterial infection symptoms is helpful as it means you’re making your trip to doctor without delay and getting on your antibiotics as soon as possible. Knowledge is power, so let’s start here by looking at the how of why bacteria can give you these infections.

What Causes Bacterial Infection

We can start here by defining the difference between bacteria and viruses, as many people will assume they’re by and large the same. They’re not. They do have the similarity of both being pathogens, and pathogens are organisms that can cause disease. Bacteria are larger and can reproduce on their own, while viruses are smaller and can’t. Both can be acquired and cause illnesses in the same way, and here is a list of what causes bacterial infection and a few of the infections most common for each exposure risk:

  • Exposure to contaminated water (cholera, typhoid fever)
  • Consuming contaminated food (botulism, E.coli and salmonella food poisoning)
  • Unprotected sex (syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia)
  • Inhalation when exposed to bacteria emitted by an infected person (tuberculosis)
  • Contact with infected animals (anthrax, cat scratch disease)
  • Touch contact with infected people (strep throat)
  • Inter-body transfer (urinary tract infections when E.coli spreads from the intestines)

Your infection treatment will usually involve an antibiotic that is proven effective for wiping out the specific type of bacteria that are causing your specific type of bacterial infection.

Bacterial Infection Symptoms

As you’d expect, bacterial infection symptoms will be seen in or on the area of the body that is affected. Certain symptoms can indicative of either a bacterial or viral infection, like the runny nose, head pain, and fatigue that can be a result of either the common cold (virus) or a sinus infection (bacteria). The determination is not one you’ll make on your own, and again it’s best to just see a physician as soon as possible.

Here are the most common types of bacterial infection; bacterial skin infections, foodborne bacterial infections, sexually transmitted bacterial infections, respiratory tract infections, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infections, and otitis media. None are to be taken lightly, but bacterial meningitis in particular is a very serious condition that can result in death if not treated promptly.

Bacterial Infection Symptoms for Types of Skin Infections:

Cellulitis – a painful, red rash that is usually very warm to the touch. Most often seen on the legs but can occur anywhere on the body

Folliculitis – red, swollen bumps on skin on top of hair follicles located there. Can be mistaken for pimples, and often caused by swimming in unclean pools or hot tubs

Impetigo – oozing sores, large blisters and raised red skin usually seen in young children. Some of the blisters may have a yellow, crusted appearance

Bacterial Infection Symptoms for Types of Foodborne Infections:

C. Jejuni (campylobacter jejuni) – intense diarrhea along with cramps and fever

Botulism (clostridium botulinum) – all-over body malaise, fever, chills, overall weakness, and delirium in worst cases

E.coli (Escherichia coli) – bloody diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramps

L. Monocytogenes (listeria monocytogenes) – fever, muscle aches, and diarrhea. Pregnant women, infants, and people with weakened immune systems most at risk

Salmonella – fever, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps lasting from 4 days to a week

Vibrio – severe diarrhea, and also skin infections if the bacteria comes into contact with skin

Bacterial Infection Symptoms for Types of STDs:

Syphilis – small painless sores on the genitals, followed some time after by skin rash, open sores, fever, swollen glands, extreme tiredness, and muscle aches

Gonorrhea – burning sensation when urinating (men or women), a yellow, white, or green discharge from urethral opening, painful and swollen testicles, need to urinate frequently

Chlamydia – unusual or abnormal discharge from penis or vagina, pain when urinating and need to urinate frequently, heavy periods or bleeding between periods for women, swollen skin around anus, testicular pain and / or swelling for men

Bacterial Infection Treatment

As mentioned, antibiotics are old faithful when it comes to getting over a bacterial infection. There’s many of them available with a prescription, and your physician will prescribe one for you based on the type of bacterial infection you have. Some of the most common antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections are amoxicillin, bacitracin, erythromycin, cephalosporins, ciprofloxacin, fluoroquinolones, and tetracycline.

Penicillin was the first antibiotic, and it’s still used to eliminate bacteria causing infections. Your physician will know what to take for bacterial infection and he or she will give you the prescription that makes it available to you.


It’s the way it is for nearly any type of illness, condition, or injury – prevention beats bacterial infection treatment if you can be smart enough to make good health-safe choices in the first place. Good practices include:

  • Washing hands before handling food, after using the toilet, after touching animals, and after being in contact with people who appear to be infected
  • Washing fruits and vegetables before eating
  • Cooking meat thoroughly
  • Practicing safe sex, and most particularly using a condom or some form of barrier protection when being intimate with a partner you don’t know well