For many people, winter means coming down with some kind of illness, whether it be a head cold or something more serious, such as strep throat. With COVID-19 still active for this cold season, you may be watching your child — and any symptoms — more carefully than ever before.

While viruses and bacteria can both cause illnesses, they’re very different in how they spread and how they’re treated. In this blog, the team at Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics in Hoover, Alabama, explains the differences between viruses and bacteria, and what you should look for if your child gets sick.

The common cold

Only viruses cause colds. In fact, there are more than 100 viruses that cause colds, and these viruses usually infect the nose, throat, and sinuses. Children under age 6 are especially vulnerable to the common cold because they have yet to build an immunity to all of the cold strains. Furthermore, children who attend daycare or have older siblings are especially vulnerable.

Cold viruses usually enter the body through the eyes, mouth, or nose, and the viruses can be transmitted through the air or through contact. This means you can catch a cold from someone’s coughing or sneezing as well as from hand-to-hand contact or from touching contaminated objects.

Cold symptoms

Symptoms typically start 1-3 days after exposure and include the following:

  • Congestion
  • Sinus pressure
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Watery nasal secretions
  • Postnasal drip
  • Slight body aches or a mild headache
  • Low-grade fever

Treatments for the common cold typically include pain relievers, nasal sprays, and rest. Antibiotics do not treat colds.

Other virus-based illnesses

Illnesses caused by viruses are characterized by how easily they spread and the fact that they cannot be treated with antibiotics. With most viruses, treatments can only help relieve symptoms, but they can’t fight the viruses themselves. With most viruses, you have to wait for your body to fight them off. Common illnesses caused by viruses include:

  • Chickenpox
  • Flu
  • Mononucleosis
  • Mumps
  • Measles
  • Viral meningitis
  • Viral pneumonia
  • Gastroenteritis

Tamiflu®, which treats flu symptoms, may lessen symptoms and shorten recovery times by 1-2 days. It can’t, however, cure the flu.

Bacteria-based illnesses

Bacterial infections and illnesses spread through contact more than through the air, meaning that infections are more likely to occur due to hand-to-hand contact or from touching contaminated objects. Common bacteria-based illnesses include:

  • Strep throat
  • Bacterial food poisoning
  • Bacterial meningitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Gastroenteritis

Antibiotics can be used to treat bacterial infections because they can keep bacteria from growing and dividing.

Sick visits

It may be hard to determine if your child’s sore throat is from a common cold or strep throat. That’s why we offer sick visits. Sick visits are same-day appointments designed for children who are suffering from symptoms that aren’t severe enough for the emergency room but that still need attention. Our team will diagnose your child and help them get on the road to recovery with specific care for their case.

To learn more about sick visits and common illnesses, book an appointment online or over the phone with Ross Bridge Medical Center Pediatrics today.


Our goal is for you to leave our office with a memorable and enjoyable experience, which is why our welcoming and compassionate staff will do everything they can to make you feel right at home.

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