Description, Causes and Risk Factors:
A virus is a tiny organism that causes an infection in the body. Viruses are made up of the genetic material known as DNA (a long linear polymer found in the nucleus of a cell and formed from nucleotides and shaped like a double helix; associated with the transmission of genetic information) or RNA (a long linear polymer of nucleotides found in the nucleus but mainly in the cytoplasm of a cell where it is associated with microsomes; it transmits genetic information from DNA to the cytoplasm and controls certain chemical processes in the cell), which the virus uses to replicate. In order for a virus to survive, it must invade and attach itself to a living cell. It will then multiply and produce more virus particles.
By attaching itself to a host cell, the virus may either kill or alter the cell's functions. When the cell dies, new types of viruses are released, and they infect other cells. This is how viruses cause disease. Generally, viruses will only infect one type of cell. For example, the cold virus will only infect cells of the upper respiratory tract.
Viruses can be transmitted in numerous ways, such as through contact with an infected person, swallowing, inhalation, or unsafe sex. Factors such as poor hygiene and eating habits can increase your risk of contracting a viral infection.
The external barriers, such as the skin and mucous membranes, are the first line of defense. The body's immune defenses are triggered when the virus enters the body, and white blood cells (lymphocytes and monocytes) begin to attack and destroy the virus.
This type of general protection is referred to as innate or natural immunity.
Viruses can affect any part of the body or body system, and can cause infections such as the common cold, flu, gastroenteritis, chicken pox or herpes. The most common type of viral infections involves the respiratory tract.
The common cold is a frequently occurring viral infection and usually includes symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy nose, sore throat and coughing. Although colds are a minor infection of the nose and throat, a cold can last from two days to two weeks. Colds are highly contagious and are spread by fluids from sneezing or coughing, which contain the infection.
Influenza, also known as the "flu", is a respiratory infection caused by viruses. The flu differs in several ways from the common cold. Symptoms of the flu include body chills, fever, headache, muscle ache and sore throat. Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications in many people. The flu is contracted in the same airborne manner as the common cold. For both cold and flu, the viruses are easily transmitted in highly populated areas.
The gastrointestinal system is also commonly affected by viruses with symptoms such as diarrhea and/or vomiting. Stomach viruses can be spread through contaminated food or water and can cause viral gastroenteritis, meaning inflammation of the stomach and intestines (small and large). Improper hand washing following a bowel movement or handling a diaper can spread the disease from person to person. Symptoms of gastroenteritis can include nausea with or without vomiting, diarrhea, low-grade fever and abdominal pain. Many people call gastroenteritis the "stomach flu", although this virus is not a strain of Influenza at all.
The skin can also be infected by a viral infection such as the common wart or chicken pox. Chickenpox is an infectious disease; with most cases occurring in children under age 15, but older children and adults can also get it. It spreads very easily by human contact. Symptoms include itchy rash, fever and headache. The rash is blister-like and usually appears on the face, scalp or torso. The disease is usually mild and lasts 5 to 10 days, although adults and older children tend to get sicker from it. Chickenpox in a virus that stays in the body forever and in most cases a person who has had the virus will likely never contract it again.
Viruses such as herpes are caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This infection can infect the mouth, genitals and anus. Oral herpes causes sores around the mouth and face, while genital herpes affects the genitals, buttocks and anus. Genital herpes is known as a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and it is transmitted through sexual contact through the mouth and genitals. This virus can be spread even when sores aren't present. Like chickenpox, this virus will remain in the body forever; however, a person with herpes may continue to deal with reoccurrences or "outbreaks" for life.
Both viral and bacterial infections cause sickness; however, there is a difference between them. A viral infection is any type of infection that is caused by a virus, which is even smaller than bacteria and is encapsulated by a protective coating, so it is more difficult to kill than bacteria. Viral infections involve a dormant virus getting into a living cell and re-writing the cell's genetic codes with its own. Viruses are not living organisms and need a "living" host in order to reproduce-otherwise it cannot survive. Commonly, viral infections involve the nose, throat and upper airways. Viral infections cause illnesses as minor as the common cold and as severe as AIDS.
Viral infections come with a variety of symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Symptoms may vary depending on what part of the body is affected, type of viruses, age, and overall health of the affected person.
These symptoms may include:
Other symptoms may include:
- Fever and chills.
- Muscle and joint aches.
- Runny nose.
The diagnosis of a viral infection is usually based on the physical symptoms and the history of the illness. A condition such as influenza, which is caused by a virus, is generally easy to diagnose because most people are familiar with the symptoms. Other types of viral infections may be harder to diagnose and various tests may have to be performed.
- Personality changes.
- Neck stiffness.
- Paralysis of the limbs.
- Back pain.
- Loss of sensation.
- Impaired bladder and bowel function.
- Blood tests to check for antibodies to viruses, or for the antigens themselves.
- Cultures for samples of blood, bodily fluid, or other material taken from the infected area.
- Spinal tap to examine the cerebrospinal fluid.
- Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques may be used to make many copies of the viral genetic material, enabling doctors to rapidly and accurately identify the virus.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect increased swelling in the temporal lobes.
The best way of treating human viruses will depend on the strength of the individual's immune system, their overall health status, age, the severity of the condition, and the type of viruses involved.
Minor illnesses caused by viral infections usually only require symptomatic treatment, while more severe conditions may require advanced medical treatment and sometimes even life-long treatment. A combination of treatment options such as conventional medicine, complementary therapy, and natural medicine can help to fight the infection, control the symptoms, and strengthen the immune response.
It is important to remember that treating human viruses cannot be accomplished through antibiotics, and the unnecessary use of antibiotics can weaken the immune system, thus increasing the likelihood of contracting another infection.
NOTE: The above information is for processing purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.