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Viral Infection

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What are Viral Infections?

Viruses are capsules with genetic material inside. They are very tiny, much smaller than bacteria. Viruses cause familiar infectious diseases such as the common cold, flu and warts. They also cause severe illnesses such as AIDS, smallpox and hemorrhagic fevers.

What do Viruses Do?

Viruses are like hijackers. They invade living, normal cells and use those cells to multiply and produce other viruses like themselves. This eventually kills the cells, which can make you sick.

How Does One Treat a Viral Infection?

Viral infections are hard to treat because viruses live inside your body's cells. They are "protected" from medicines, which usually move through your bloodstream. Antibiotics do not work for viral infections. There are a few antiviral medicines available. Vaccines can help prevent you from getting many viral diseases.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases



Infection Control

Every year, many lives are lost because of the spread of infections in hospitals. Health care workers can take steps to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. These steps are part of infection control.

Proper hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals. If you are a patient, don't be afraid to remind friends, family and health care providers to wash their hands before getting close to you.

Other steps health care workers can take include

  • Covering coughs and sneezes
  • Staying up-to-date with immunizations
  • Using gloves, masks and protective clothing
  • Making tissues and hand cleaners available
  • Following hospital guidelines when dealing with blood or contaminated items



Viral infections are caused by viruses, which are microscopic germs and are quite different to the larger bacteria germs. They look like tiny crystals under the microscope. Viruses are the most common cause of viral infection, but are usually not serious. They usually cause upper respiratory tract infections (URTIs) such as the common cold and pharyngitis (sore throat).

Other examples are influenza, gastroenteritis (especially in children), measles, rubella, mumps, chickenpox, glandular fever and cold sores.


PreventionReasons for Hope: Preventing viruses from entering cells/New way to protect families from type 1 diabetes

Blocking viruses. Viruses, such as HIV, SARS, and avian flu, pose some of the most serious global health threats, and finding ways to prevent viral infections is a major biomedical challenge. Some viruses cause infection when they successfully attach to and fuse with the outer membrane of a healthy cell, enabling viruses to inject their own genetic material into the cell.

Recently, NICHD researchers collaborated with other scientists to discover the mechanism by which viruses gain entry into healthy cells. The investigators learned that molecules called defensins appear to prevent viruses from entering cells by thwarting the fusion of the viral and cell membranes. Preventing viruses from entering cells enables the immune system to identify them for later destruction. Defensins are produced by cells that line the surfaces of many organs and tissues and are among the first cells to come into contact with viruses. This basic but elegant scientific discovery helps to explain how defensins work, allowing scientists to unravel the mystery of why some individuals are more resistant than others to certain types of viral infections. The finding also opens the door to new strategies for preventing viral illnesses. This is critical in an era of concern about pandemic viral infections and biological threats using viral agents.



*These statements have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. TCM is an acronym for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

**The information provided on this site is for informational purposes only, not intended to replace your doctor's or other health care professional's advice or treatment. Nor is any information contained on or in any product label or packaging intended to provide or replace professional health care advice. Do not use the this site's information for diagnosis or treatment of any health problem, nor for prescription of any treatment or medication. Always consult with a healthcare professional before undertaking any diet, exercise, herbal or other supplementation program, taking any medications, or if you suspect you may have or already have any type of health problem. Do not stop taking any medication without first consulting your doctor.