Infection and inflammation




An infection means that the body has been attacked by bacteria, viruses or fungi. To defend itself, the body usually reacts with inflammation. The area that is inflamed can become swollen, red, hot and tender. Fever, fatigue, muscle pain, headache, and decreased appetite are signs of more widespread inflammation.

Most infections, such as colds and flu, go away by themselves within a week and you do not need to seek care. But there are also very long-lasting, recurring or life-long infections, such as herpes and HIV.

It is most common for inflammation to be due to an infection, but there may also be other causes. Damage to the body, allergy to some substance and some diseases can also trigger inflammation.

Treatment for bacterial infections

Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Antivirals do not help antibiotics, but there are vaccines against some viruses, as well as medicines that make it more difficult for the virus to multiply. Fungal infections are treated with antifungal drugs.

If inflammation becomes severe, there are several types of drugs that can be used to suppress the body’s reaction.

When to seek care?

You should seek care directly at a health center or emergency room if you

• quickly gets high fever, chills and feels sick 
• has difficulty breathing or wheezing, breaths breathing 
• has difficulty getting fluid and thus risks being dehydrated 
• is confused and feels dizzy 
• has severe headaches while having fever and is stiff in the neck 
• has very stomach ache.

You can always call the medical advice for advice.

What is it?

Infection is when the body is attacked

Infection and inflammation are words that are often used when talking about various diseases. They belong together but still describe two distinct states.

Infection means that the body is exposed to a harmful attack by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. Microorganisms that attack the body are also called infectious agents.

An infection means that an infectious agent passes through the body’s first protective barriers found in the skin and the mucous membranes. It almost always leads to the body’s different defense systems reacting and triggering inflammation. However, not all inflammation in the body is due to an infection. They can also be caused by other injuries, such as skin lesions, or bodily reactions such as allergies.

When the body is attacked by parasites such as worms or lice, it is sometimes called incorrect infection. The attack gives the same symptoms as infection and can also cause inflammation, but the real term is an infestation.

Inflammation is the body’s reaction

The word inflammation is used when there are various signs that the body’s defense has responded to an injury or attack. For example, the signs may be that there is a redness or the temperature is rising. These are signs that blood flow has increased in the area. It can also become swollen or hurt. Inflammation often causes the area of ​​the body that is inflamed to function worse. So typical symptoms of inflammation are that

  • turns red or pink
  • gets hot
  • being swollen
  • hurts.

The body’s own protection

The body has several opportunities to protect itself from harmful attacks. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are part of the human environment and sometimes protect against these attacks. In particular, the bacteria play an important part in the protection of the body

Skin and mucous membranes including the respiratory mucosa are covered by harmless viruses, fungi, and bacterial species. They form the body’s normal flora and make it difficult for disease-causing microorganisms to multiply on mucous membranes and skin. In the respiratory tract there is the mucous membrane which produces a secretion where various bacteria and viruses get stuck. There are also flicker hairs that carry the mucus out of the body.

Also in the intestines are bacteria and mucous membranes that protect against harmful attacks. The bacteria in the intestines are ten times as many as the body’s own cells. In recent years, knowledge about how bacteria play an important role in health has increased. Antibiotics can damage the gut flora, so it is good not to take antibiotics unnecessarily.

When the first defense is not enough

If the body’s own defense fails to stop an attack, then inflammation is started.

The cells in the affected part of the body then release various chemical substances. This causes more blood to flow through the tissue and the area swells due to fluid accumulating. Even the cells of the immune system, the white blood cells, are activated and begin to defend the body against the attack and repair any damage.

If this is not enough, and the infection is not quickly combated, antibodies are formed in the blood. Antibodies are proteins that can bind to specific sites on the pathogen. They start defense reactions that destroy the agents.

When antibodies are formed, the body develops what is called immunological memory. The memory causes the immune system to respond quickly if the same infection returns later. How good immunological memory varies from person to person. It also depends on the infectious agent behind the infection.

A local infection that spreads often causes fever and sometimes even swollen and tender lymph nodes. These are early warning signs of deterioration.

Different types of infections

Here is a description of three types of microorganisms that are common causes of infections:

  • Virus.
  • Bacteria.
  • Mushrooms.

Viruses are more difficult to fight than bacteria

The difference between bacteria and viruses is mainly that bacteria have a more complicated structure than viruses.

Usually, viruses consist of a piece of genetic material in a sheath. The genetic material contains information that is used to make new virus particles that cause the virus to increase in quantity. Viruses cannot increase in quantity without access to living cells, and they utilize the infected cell’s system for growth. As a result, they also become difficult to fight, since a drug that attacks the virus can also easily damage the body’s own cells in which they grow. Bacteria, on the other hand, have their own unique cellular structure, and can, therefore, be attacked with, for example, antibiotics.

It is a virus that causes colds and flu. There are hundreds of different types of cold viruses. There are also different types of influenza viruses. In addition, some viruses, such as the influenza virus, have the ability to change their structure. It can make the body’s immune system more difficult to recognize the virus, and therefore does not protect against a new infection, even if you have had a similar virus type before.

Another very common virus is the herpes simplex virus. It can cause mouth herpes or herpes in the genital area. The virus does not usually disappear from the body after the first illness but remains in the nerve roots. It can then be activated and give new symptoms later in life. Another virus that can cause lifelong infection is HIV. 

HPV is a virus that can cause a very long-lasting infection. Some types of HPV cause warts and some other types of the virus can cause cancer in the womb of women. You can now vaccinate against the dangerous types of the HPV virus.

The same bacteria can cause different symptoms

Bacteria can turn out in different ways. An example is the commonly occurring bacterium streptococcus. When it causes illness it is usually a matter of throat flux, but it can also give two types of skin infection. The most common is rose fever, erysipelas, which mainly adults get, but sometimes it can also give swine, impetigo, which is most common in children.

Streptococci can also cause scarlet fever, and in the worst case, one can get an infection in the blood that severely affects the entire body.

Bacteria are divided into different groups, so-called bacterial strains. Which disease you get depends on what type of bacterial strain it is and how it behaves. The immune system is more difficult to defend against certain bacterial strains, and these can then quickly invade the body and cause serious illnesses.

Mushrooms are a threat when they grow too much

Mushrooms are usually found in small amounts on and in the body without causing any damage. However, if the immune system or bacterial flora is affected, the fungus can grow uninhibited. This can happen, for example, after an antibiotic course. For example, many women get a fungal infection of the genital area after using antibiotics. Another cause of inflammatory fungal infections may be an elevated blood sugar level in diabetes.

In severe diseases when the body has a severely impaired immune system, fungi can cause a spread and serious infection. Other infectious agents that you do not normally get sick with can cause serious illness at such times.

Different degrees of infectiousness

For some diseases, such as tuberculosis, close contact with the breathing air of an infected person is required to become infected and ill.

Other microorganisms transmit very easily, such as influenza viruses and chickenpox virus. These virus particles can stay suspended in the air after coughing and sneezing and thus spread through the air. You can also become infected through direct contact with the airway secretion, so-called drip infection.

Fungi have low contagion because they usually give infection first if there is any contributing factor that promotes fungal growth.

Inflammation usually heals

After the immune system reaction, inflammation can usually heal by itself, but sometimes it is formed and inflammation worsens. Then you have to get medication, and sometimes warts have to be cut up so that the goods can run out.

Some diseases cause more prolonged inflammation. Examples of this are rheumatic diseases and tuberculosis. There are also infectious diseases that lie dormant in the nerve pathways and sometimes flare up in temporary attacks, such as herpes.

Other causes of inflammation

Various infections are the most common cause of inflammation, but all kinds of harmful effects on the body, such as heat, cold, chemical substances, wound injuries, bone fractures or allergies can trigger inflammation.

The body can also react with inflammation in so-called autoimmune conditions. This means that the immune system has started to attack the body’s own tissue. Examples are rheumatic diseases, some types of anemia and some forms of trauma. There are also diseases where there is no explanation yet as to why inflammation starts, such as muscle rheumatism, polymyalgia rheumatic, MS and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

When you have asthma you get an inflammation in the mucous membranes of the trachea which plays a big role in how severe the symptoms you get. Unless the inflammation is treated, the bronchodilator medication you usually take does not help.

Muscle and tendon problems are rarely inflammation

When you have problems from different parts of the musculoskeletal system – such as the neck, shoulders, arms, and back – the term inflammation is quite often used. However, it has been found that inflammation in this type of inconvenience is not usually the case.

Among other things, the characteristic signs are missing, for example, that it becomes red, swollen and warm. If tissue samples are examined under a microscope, the typical inflammatory cells that are usually visible when there is inflammation are also missing. Instead, the tissue is pale and has very few blood vessels and nerves. This type of change is usually called degenerative. Degenerative changes are part of the normal aging process in the body’s tissues.

Diagnosis and care

When to contact a doctor?

Often, an infection of itself heals within a week and you do not usually need help from the medical service.

On the other hand, you should seek care directly at a health center or emergency room if you get symptoms that may mean that it is a more serious illness. These symptoms may be to man

  • quickly get high fever, chills and feel sick
  • have difficulty breathing or a wheezing wheeze
  • have difficulty getting fluid, and thus risk being dehydrated
  • is confused and feels dizzy
  • have severe headaches while having a fever and are stiff in the neck, or are lethargic and confused
  • has a lot of stomach aches.

How the doctor makes a diagnosis

When you get an infection, the symptoms can be very different, depending on which micro-organism you are infected with and how the body manages to deal with the infection. It is often enough to describe the symptoms at the same time as the doctor does a regular body examination to diagnose.

Common symptoms that can be signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, throbbing pain, feeling hot and fever. In particularly severe inflammations, you can lose a lot of weight for a short time and feel bad in a general and diffuse way.

Sometimes you have to submit samples

If the disease picture is unclear or if you have received treatment that does not help, the doctor may take the following additional tests:

Bacterial and viral samples

Bacterial cultures can respond within a few days to which bacteria have caused the infection. A common way of taking bacterial samples is by using a cotton swab. With the stick, the doctor touches the area where you have received an infection, for example, a wound. It takes a few seconds and doesn’t hurt. The stick is then inserted into a tube and sent to a laboratory. There are also quick tests that can detect bacteria, most commonly a so-called strep test that shows if there are streptococci and chlamydia tests.

If the doctor suspects that you have sepsis, also called blood poisoning, you can leave a blood test on which it is then bacterial culture.

Virus cultures usually take longer. For several common types of virus infection, such as glandular fever, influenza, and RS viruses, there are quick tests that provide answers within a few hours.

Blood tests

Blood tests can show that the body has begun to form antibodies to certain infectious agents. Such samples take a long time to analyze and sometimes you have to submit blood tests on several occasions. You can have antibodies in your blood that are not due to a current infection, but which are remnants of an infection you have had before.

If you have an inflammation, and your doctor wants information on how severe the inflammation is, regular blood tests such as “lowering” or so-called CRP can provide guidance. The samples can show elevated values ​​if you have more severe inflammation. The number of white blood cells may also be increased in infections. If you have a prolonged and severe inflammation it can lower the blood value because the bone marrow does not form enough new blood.

An analysis of the blood proteins is often done if it is difficult to understand the reason behind the inflammation. Proteins can show typical patterns in the blood for different kinds of diseases. In some types of inflammation, such as arthritis or thyroid inflammation, various blood tests can show whether the body has produced antibodies that are common in these types of diseases.

Inflammation is treated differently

They are treated in different ways depending on the cause of the inflammation. If it is due to bacteria, antibiotics are usually treated. It is then about fighting the infection itself. For example, if the inflammation has caused a warped boil, the doctor opens the boil so that the warp comes out and the wound can be cleaned. To alleviate symptoms such as pain and swelling, one can receive anti-inflammatory and analgesic medication. Sometimes you also get antibiotics.

Sometimes the body’s reaction and immune system need to be attenuated when cortisone is used. This is done so that the immune system does not attack its own tissue. Sometimes other drugs are also used that more strongly affect and dampen one’s own defense. Examples of such diseases are rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis, MS.

It is important that the right type of antibiotic is used

If you have an infection due to bacteria and need to be treated, there are several types of different antibiotics to choose from. Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria or preventing them from multiplying. It is important to choose a type of antibiotic that targets the type of bacteria directly. Ideally, you should avoid preparations that have a broad effect on many different types of bacteria. Otherwise, the body’s own flora is disrupted by bacteria more than necessary and the risk increases for bacterial strains to become immune, so-called resistant, to the drugs.

Vaccination against viruses

Because viruses are not built up in the same way as bacteria, they cannot be treated with antibiotics. Instead, vaccinations are used to prevent disease, but also to prevent the spread of the virus. There are vaccines against many types of viruses, but so far there are no vaccines against some serious types, such as HIV.

For some viruses, such as influenza, herpes, and HIV, there are medications that have a slowing effect on virus proliferation.

How to protect yourself from infection

To reduce the risk of getting infections one can try to avoid infection in different ways. Usually, direct or close contact is required for microorganisms to be transmitted. One can think of that

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water
  • use hand spirit
  • keep a distance when someone coughs or sneezes
  • avoid crowds in cold times
  • use condoms as protection against sexually transmitted infections
  • have good hygiene around food and kitchens
  • have a good health condition by eating good food, having good sleep habits, exercising, being moderate with alcohol and not smoking or using drugs.

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