Reviewed on 8/13
A bacterial or viral infection can cause worsening of the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is called an exacerbation. Antibiotics help fight bacterial infections that can occur with COPD, and anti-viral medications are used to fight viral types of infections, such as influenza.
Viruses and Anti-Viral Drugs
Viruses are different from bacteria in many ways. A bacterium (single bacteria) is a tiny living cell that can reproduce itself. A virus is not a cell and some argue it is not even living. A virus is a piece of nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) packed inside a protein coat called a capsid. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria and cannot reproduce by themselves. (This is one reason some people do not consider viruses to be living.) Instead, viruses need to infect another cell before they can reproduce. After the virus enters a cell, it actually takes over the cell's machinery to manufacture new viruses. It then kills the host cell by bursting it open so the new virus particles can infect other cells.
Some viral infections are difficult to treat or develop effective medicines for because viruses have an amazing ability to mutate, or change themselves to avoid destruction by the immune system or by antiviral drugs. Anti-viral drugs have been developed to treat some specific viral infections.
Bacteria and Antibiotics
Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can cause infection in humans. Tuberculosis, or bacterial pneumonia (such as that caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae) are examples of lung disease caused by a bacterial infection. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics, but antibiotics don't work on viral infections. If you are given antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection, it is very important to finish taking all of your medicine as prescribed - even if you feel better before your medicine runs out. This is because stopping your antibiotics before they're through can lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, or "super bugs," and drug-resistant bacteria is very difficult to treat.