If the body is already weakened by cold or flu viruses, some bacteria take advantage of this and also infect the affected tissue. Serious complications can result.
A cold or flu can only cause viruses . Bacteria don’t. However, some doctors prescribe antibiotics , which are drugs that kill bacteria. Antibiotics cannot do anything against viruses. Do such doctors act negligently? Or even wrong? Possibly.
There is one exception, however: if your doctor determines that bacteria are also involved in your condition, antibiotics may be warranted. For some forms, he has to prescribe antibiotics. Because it is possible that a bacterial infection can be added to the viral infection. Experts call this “superinfection”. The term “super” is not meant here in an ironic and judgmental way, but is derived from a Latin word and means: on top.
The bacteria take advantage of a weak moment in the immune system: Due to the virus attack, the defense mechanisms are already weakened. Therefore, it is easy for the bacteria to infect the affected tissue a second time.
Second infections carry risks
Typical superinfections in colds are, for example, inflammation of the sinuses or the middle ear. Both tissues can already be infected by the virus because they have fought their way from the nose into the sinuses or via the ear trumpet (the Eustachian tube) into the middle ear.
Other secondary infections associated with colds can include:
- a tonsillitis
- inflammation of the bronchi (bronchitis)
- pneumonia or
Inflamed lungs due to a dragged on cold are rare, but dangerous. Because in individual cases pneumonia can be fatal. Superinfections of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the brain and meninges (meningoencephalitis) are just as dangerous and worrying.
The risk of superinfection is higher with the flu than with the common cold, especially for those people who belong to a certain risk group . Elderly people and patients with a weakened immune system are considered at risk.
Bacteria slip through a gap in the immune system
Cold and especially flu viruses usually put the immune system to the limit. Because these are often pathogens to which the immune system first has to find a suitable reaction. In this situation, bacteria have an easy job: many immune cells are already busy fighting off viruses. Immune messengers have to be newly formed, other components of the body’s defense may have been used up.
The mucous membranes in the nose and bronchi, for example, are at the mercy of defenseless bacteria. There the viruses have already destroyed the immune system’s first line of defense: the cilia of the uppermost mucous membrane cells. These tiny hairs usually ensure that microbes are swept straight back outside. If the cells with the hairs are destroyed, the bacteria stick and can easily colonize the second cell line. The affected tissue therefore becomes ill and reacts with inflammation.
No contact with bacteria from the environment is required for superinfection. It is also possible that the pathogens that cause disease have been in the body for some time, but have so far been successfully kept under control by the immune system. Only as a result of the infection with the virus does the matter then become unbalanced.
Superinfection – diagnosis by the doctor
How can a bacterial superinfection be recognized? The diagnosis is ultimately made by the doctor who, for example, takes a smear from the mucous membranes and examines it for bacteria. If the suspicion is confirmed, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to fight the pathogens.
You should consult a doctor in particular if you have a high fever, severe or persistent feeling of illness and yellowish to greenish discolored sputum.