You wake up in the morning and immediately know something is wrong. Your throat is sore and your head hurts something fierce. The minute you move, you start to cough. Just standing up causes your stomach to rumble and threaten something worse. Simple movements take effort and you’re really hot.

It doesn’t take you long to figure out what’s wrong: you’re sick. Instead of heading to school, you’ll be heading back to bed. But first, you need to check with your parents. This set of symptoms could mean you’re headed to see the doctor, too.

If you’ve been to the doctor many times in recent years, you’ve probably been given medicine on many occasions that helps you to get better. Sometimes, though, the doctor might say that there isn’t any medicine to treat your illness. In those cases, you just need to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and use over-the-counter medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms you may be experiencing.

If you’ve ever WONDERed why you sometimes get a prescription for medicine at the doctor and other times you don’t, it probably has to do with the various causes of illnesses. While germs are usually to blame, it depends upon exactly which type of germs you’re dealing with.

Germs mostly fall into four main types: bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. The most common germs that cause us to be sick are bacteria and viruses. Although they’re both germs, they’re very different creatures that have to be battled in different ways.

Bacteria are tiny organisms that consist of just one cell. They take nutrients from the environment around wherever they happen to be, which is sometimes inside the human body. When they invade the body, bacteria can cause a multitude of different types of infections that make us sick.

Some common infections you may have experienced before include tonsillitis, strep throat, cavities, and ear infections. When doctors determine that the source of an infection is bacteria, they usually prescribe an antibiotic to fight the bacterial germs.

Not all bacteria are bad for us, though. Some bacteria are helpful and necessary for us to stay healthy. For example, there are good bacteria that live in our intestines. They help keep our bodies in balance by aiding in digestion. Not only can they help our bodies make better use of the nutrients in our food, they can also help turn what’s left over into waste.

Bacteria can grow outside the human body, if necessary. Viruses, on the other hand, need to be inside living cells to grow and reproduce. Viruses are even smaller than bacteria. If they’re not inside a human being, plant, or animal, they won’t survive for long.

When viruses get inside of a living thing (called a host), they invade and take over cells, using them to reproduce themselves and spread throughout the host. Viruses can cause a variety of illnesses, including chickenpox, measles, and the flu. Unlike bacteria, there are no helpful viruses for your body.

If you have an illness caused by a virus, you often have to let the illness run its course. Antibiotics rarely work against viruses like they do against bacteria. The body’s own natural defenses will usually overcome viruses if given enough time. While waiting for the body to fight viruses, it’s important to drink lots of fluids, get plenty of rest, and treat whatever symptoms you can with over-the-counter medicines.

So when you have a whole host of symptoms and are quite sick, a visit to the doctor’s office may or may not result in a prescription for medicine that will kill the germs causing your illness. Of course, a doctor’s job is never easy, because some illnesses, like pneumonia, meningitis, and diarrhea, can sometimes be caused by bacteria and other times by viruses!

44 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (34 votes, avg. 3.09 out of 5)
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  1. THOUGHT: I thought this was interesting.

    CONNECTION: I had the stomach flu before.

    PREDICTION: I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about kids.

    WWOTD: alleviate

  2. THOUGHT: Instead of having a virus, can you extract it?

    CONNECTION: I once looked at virus, and after I took a break the virus multiplied into more little viruses.

    WWOTD: The venom will alleviate the pain.

    PREDICTION: I think tomorrow’s Wonder is going to be about sweet treats that make you smart.

    • Hello, Tam and Alex! These are WONDERful connections to today’s Wonder! How cool that you actually saw a virus before, Tam! Did you see it under a microscope? How, cool! Thanks for WONDERing with us Wonder Friends!

  3. THOUGHT: I liked the video, and thanks for the information.

    CONNECTION: I have had a very bad migraine.

    PREDICTION: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder is about cookies?

    WWOTD: alleviate

    EX: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.

  4. THOUGHT: I liked the story.
    CONNECTION: I was sick, too.
    WWOTD: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.
    PREDICTION: cooking

  5. THOUGHT: I thought that the video was really…SOMETHING.
    CONNECTION: I connected because when I was younger I’d always get sick. I think it’s because I have a weak immune system.
    PREDICTION: I predict that the next wonder will be about cookies!
    WWOTD: alleviate-provide physical relief from pain

    • WONDERful connections, from Eric, Mrs. Liles Class, and Keith! We all do get sick from time to time. It helps to know what causes it. We hope that the viruses will steer clear, though. ;-) Thanks for WONDERing with us today!

  6. Thought: It was very non-interesting.
    Connection: My friend had a virus.
    prediction: It’s going to be juicy.
    wwotd: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.

  7. Thought: I thought that viruses and bacteria were the same.

    Connection: I’ve been sick before.

    Prediction: I predict that I will get sick again.

    wwotd: I alleviate the pain.

  8. THOUGHT: I thought there was a cure for both sicknesses.

    CONNECTION: I got sick over winter break.

    WWOTD: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.

    PREDICTION: I predict tomorrow’s wonder will be about cookies.

  9. Thought: If they were fighting, who would win bacteria or virus?

    Connection: One time I had to stay home from school.

    Prediction: Is it about cookies being smart?

    WWOTD: The heated pillow alleviated my ankle.

  10. thought- I thought that today we were going to talk about food.

    connection- I have been sick too, where I was in the hospital for a whole month.

    prediction- I like the story it reminds me of something that happened.

    WWOTD- The ice pack helped alleviate my head.

  11. THOUGHT: I have had a cold before, but not a virus. I wonder if it can kill you, or will be spreading diseases that will kill everyone.

    CONNECTION: My dad died of a disease, which was cancer and I was only 3 years old.

    WWOD: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.

    PREDICTION: I hope the wonder for tomorrow is going to be about frogs!

  12. THOUGHT: I do not like viruses.

    CONNECTION: When I was in kindergarten and 1st grade, in the winter I always had a case of the stomach flu.

    PREDICTION: I predict that tomorrow’s wonder will be about tasty treats.

    EXAMPLE: The ice pack helped alleviate the pain in my knee.

    WWOTD: Alleviate means ” provide physical from pain”.

  13. THOUGHT: Having a virus is kinda uncomfortable because you know there is a nasty bug or decease in you.
    CONNECT: When I was baby had pneumonia, and the doctor had a prescription for me.
    PREDICTION: The brain.
    WWOTD: Alleviate means make something less severe. (sentence) A medicine can help alleviate my pain.

  14. THOUGHT: How do you get bacteria?

    CONNECT: My brother was sick one day and go to school.

    PREDICTION: I predict that bacteria can spread.

    WWOTD: alleviate – provide physical relief from pain.

    • Thanks for WONDERing with us Kyra, Janiya, and Jenna! We agree with you that being sick is no fun at all! At least when you have a bacterial infection, you can get a prescription. It is gross to think that bacteria is all around us. Keep WONDERing with us Wonder Friends! :-)

    • Hi Lizzy! According to today’s Wonder, “When viruses get inside of a living thing (called a host), they invade and take over cells, using them to reproduce themselves and spread throughout the host.” How weird is that? Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

    • Hi, Halie! Today’s Wonder was about the differences between bacteria and viruses. You can treat a bacterial infection with medicine, but a virus has to run its course. Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :-)

    • Great question, Isaac! Did you know that germs can enter your body through your nose, mouth, or an open wound? When they do, you sometimes get sick. So, be sure to wash your hands a lot! Keep WONDERing! :-)

  15. I thought the video was going to be disgusting because, viruses and bacteria are not good for you.
    The video was interesting, because I learned about virus and bacteria differences.

  16. I hate the flu and other viruses that make are kids sick. I also hate when you have to take the day off and stay home to deal with them. Why dads can’t you take care of them. =(

    • We agree with you, Abby. Viruses are horrible! Maybe medical science will come up with something to help us better deal with them in the future. We hope so! Thanks for WONDERing with us, today! :-)

  17. Anobiotic AnooooByitac! ANOOBYAWTICWA!!! I Can’t Pronounce It!!!

    Next Wonder Chocolate Chip Cookie? Cookie? Smarts? Brains? Cookie Flavored Brains?

    • That sure can be a tough one, Max! We found a phonetic spelling for you (an-ti-bahy-ot-ik), although it may not help. We love your Wonder prediction for tomorrow. Although, it doesn’t sound very yummy. Mmm, mmm… brains? Thanks for WONDERing with us Max! :-)

    • Hi, Austin! We hope you feel better soon. We’re so glad that you learned something new today! Thanks for WONDERing with us! :-)

  18. Hi! Me again from rip currents. I thought this was really interesting. Now I know there are some illnesses you can’t get treated for and that some bacteria can be helpful in our bodies in many ways.

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How are viruses and bacteria different?
  • Do antibiotics work against viruses?
  • Can some illnesses be caused by either bacteria or viruses?

Wonder Gallery

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Try It Out

We hope you’re not feeling sick after learning about today’s Wonder of the Day! We think you’ll feel much better if you check out one or more of the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Do you know one of the most effective ways to fight germs, such as bacteria and viruses? Wash your hands! Yes, this simple act, when done correctly and regularly, can keep harmful germs from invading your body. Keeping germs out of your body is an important way to prevent illnesses. Revisit a past Wonder of the Day: Why Do You Need To Wash Your Hands? and scrub up on the importance of keeping your hands clean. Then, go scrub up yourself, and go wash your hands. You’ll be glad you did. They might have picked up germs from your keyboard or touchscreen!
  • Just because you can’t see bacteria and viruses with the naked eye doesn’t mean they’re not there. If you’ve been sick in the past year, you know that’s true! Scientists have used modern technology, such as electron microscopes, to learn more about bacteria and viruses. They’ve even been able to capture some images of these tiny organisms. Use another piece of modern technology, such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone, to check out the Bacteria & Viruses photo gallery online. Do these germs look like what you thought they would? Do you think they look kind of scary?
  • When you’re on the go, it’s not always easy to find a place to clean up and wash your hands. Yet, you probably run into situations all the time when you’d like to de-germ your hands. Perhaps you’ve used antibacterial hand soap at one time or another. These hand cleaners can be a lifesaver when you want to get rid of germs but can’t find a place to wash your hands properly. Did you know you can make your own homemade antibacterial hand soap? If you’re up for a challenge, ask an adult to help you make a batch of Homemade Foaming Antibacterial Hand Soap. You may need to go to the store for a few items, so be sure to check the instructions before you get going!

Still Wondering

In Science NetLinks’ Immune Attack resource, you get to navigate through a 3-D representation of the human body, fighting germs and restoring a healthy immune system to a sick patient.

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

Can you predict what tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day will be about? If you can, you’re one smart cookie!

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