Infection is a common occurrence across all ages and demographics. If you cut your finger and do not clean and bandage the wound, there is a good chance that it will become infected. The tissue will become inflamed and the wound will become more painful, for instance. Both bacterial and viral infections can occur, and their symptoms can be very similar to one another. It is important to understand the differences so that the appropriate course of action can be taken.
Viral vs. Bacterial Infection: The Differences
Superficially, bacteria and viruses have many similarities. They’re both microorganisms. They both cause infections. They can both be spread from person to person, as well. However, they are actually very different:
Bacteria - Single-celled organisms capable of self-replication, a small percentage of which can cause infection in humans. These are called pathogenic bacteria, and they can create contagious diseases. Examples of these conditions include Lyme disease, strep throat, and even gonorrhea.
Viruses - Viruses are smaller than bacteria and require a host in order to replicate and grow. Examples of contagious viral illnesses include West Nile, Zika, chickenpox, the flu, and even the common cold.
Between the two, viruses are the greater threat to human health in big part because they are more difficult to treat.
Common Types of Viral Infections
The most common type of viral infection in the world is a respiratory infection. For instance, the novel coronavirus causes COVID-19, which is a respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia, ARDS, and other life-threatening conditions. Other examples include the range of flu viruses that spread around the world each year and the common cold virus.
However, numerous other viruses can cause infections of various systems within the body, including the following:
- GI tract infections
- Liver infections
- Nervous system infections
- Skin infections
How Are Viruses Spread?
Viruses are spread in much the same way as bacteria. The most common is through transmission and inhalation of fluids. For instance, when someone coughs or sneezes, virus-infused droplets of saliva and/or mucus are sprayed throughout the surrounding area. They can be inhaled by people nearby or they can be swallowed.
However, the threat posed is even more insidious, as viruses can live on surfaces like cloth and metal for long periods after the initial sneeze or cough. Someone touching these surfaces and then touching their face could then become ill, or even spread the virus to others through touch.
How to Prevent Viral Infection Spread
There is no foolproof way to limit the spread of viruses and mitigate subsequent viral infections. However, simple steps can help to limit the virus’s ability to spread, including:
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing (not with your hand!)
- Washing your hands frequently with warm water and soap
- Avoiding touching your face before washing your hands, particularly in and after being in public
- Limiting time spent in public, particularly if you are sick or have a compromised immune system
- Getting vaccinated against specific viruses, such as tetanus and the flu
Note that at the time of this writing, there is currently no vaccine for the novel coronavirus, although research is ongoing.
How Might Stem Cell Therapy Help Combat Viral Infection?
Stem cells are the body’s building blocks. They are present before any other type of cell and also form the basis for the body’s’ healing and regenerative system. They can transform into any type of tissue needed to heal and repair damage, and they also combat inflammation, and more. Because of these qualities, stem cells have been heavily researched for their use in an incredibly wide range of applications, including combatting viral infections, such as COVID-19 stemming from infection by the novel coronavirus.
For instance, as of late March 2020, almost 100 patients at a Beijing hospital are being treated with stem cell therapy, and despite some naysayers, the results have been positive overall. According to IEEE Spectrum,
“Researchers have so far reported results from only seven patients treated with stem cells at Beijing You’an Hospital. Each patient suffered from COVID-19 symptoms, including fevers and difficulty breathing. They each received a single infusion of mesenchymal stem cells sometime between 23 January and 16 February. A few days later, investigators say, all symptoms disappeared in all seven patients.”
While the study was criticized initially by some in the medical community, it has since expanded its scope to include data from an additional 31 patients, although those results have not yet been published. In all cases, experts say, patients saw an improvement in COVID-19 symptoms.
Several additional trials are also ongoing or in the beginning phases, including one involving four Chinese hospitals, a firm in Australia, and a possible new trial in the United States.
However, stem cells have been researched for their use in treating viral infections prior to the rise of the novel coronavirus and subsequent pandemic. For instance, a study published in the journal Stem Cells International in 2015 found that
“MSCs were capable of producing and secreting substantial quantities of the antimicrobial peptide, human cathelicidin hCAP-18/LL-37, which participated in bacterial clearance both in vitro and in vivo. In addition, tryptophan-catabolizing enzyme IDO-positive human MSCs triggered by stimulation with inflammatory cytokines exhibited broad-spectrum antimicrobial effector function directed against a range of clinically relevant bacteria, protozoal parasites, and viruses.”
Stem Cell Types
It is important for any patient (or family member) considering stem cell treatment to understand that both allogeneic and autologous stem cells are used in the medical community. Autologous stem cells are sourced from the patient’s own body, which means they may be compromised by decades of mutations and that they lack energy due to age. Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue and are both high-energy and youthful, making them much more effective.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved stem cell treatment options available. Any such therapies should be considered experimental only. It is also important for patients to work with a physician with in-depth experience and expertise not only in stem cell therapy, but in allogeneic stem cell treatment.