Bacteria vs. Viruses

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

I just saw a banner ad for Microsoft’s antivirus product, One Care. The basic rundown is this: a bunch of viruses are hanging out and dividing, when all of a sudden, One Care farts on them (seriously, Microsoft, a green cloud?), thereby killing them. Yay-hooray, right? Well, there’s one tiny problem: the viruses they show are actually bacteria. Take a look for yourself:

Bacteria. Viruses. Learn the fucking difference.

Obviously that last frame is one I threw on there for when this inevitably hits Google Images. Here’s the original ad.

I asked Morah (who works with bacteria and viruses at her job) her opinion and she agreed that these seem more like bacteria than viruses. After all, they look like bacteria, viruses don’t divide the way bacteria do, and this looks like it’s supposed to be either on a blood agar plate (viruses aren’t grown on that type of media) or on a wet mount under a microscope (to see viruses requires an electron microscope).

There are a number of major differences between bacteria and viruses, but lately, no one seems to be able to tell which is which. Things like MRSA and bird flu, have given the general public an increased awareness of the microscopic world around us. Unfortunately, much of what the public hears is factually incorrect.

Several months ago, MRSA was a hot topic here in Spokane, as it was across the nation. The local news anchors kept incorrectly calling the bacteria a virus, much to the chagrin of my wife and I (having working in T.V. news, I know that the anchors were probably just reading off of the teleprompter, so the producer who wrote virus instead of bacteria is to blame).

Explaining all of the differences between the two is beyond the scope of this blog (not to mention my own personal knowledge), but Dr. Greene offers a pretty good basic explanation:

Viruses are tiny geometric structures that can only reproduce inside a living cell. They range in size from 20 to 250 nanometers. Outside of a living cell, a virus is dormant, but once inside, it takes over the resources of the host cell and begins the production of more virus particles.

Bacteria are one-celled living organisms. The average bacterium is 1,000 nanometers long. All bacteria are surrounded by a cell wall. They can reproduce independently, and inhabit virtually every environment on earth, including soil, water, hot springs, ice packs, and the bodies of plants and animals.

Given their differences, it’s really not very hard to keep the two straight, so there isn’t an excuse!

It seems to me that large companies, such as Microsoft, should have the resources to do some basic fact-checking, and companies of any size upon which the public relies for information have a responsibility to disseminate information that is, to the best of their knowledge, factually correct.

Don’t know who to ask? Surely you can think of at least one person you know who’s married to a microbiologist.

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