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How does the immune system fight viruses?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
A strategy of the innate immune system involves the presence of virus-detecting proteins inside cells. The detection of a virus causes the cell to release antiviral proteins known as interferons. The interferons attach themselves to neighboring uninfected cells. This attachment causes those cells to become resistant to a viral onslaught, providing some short-term, local protection. The name provides the clue to function: interferons interfere with the progress of viral advance.

In addition, the cells of animals and humans infected by a virus have a "suicide" program called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. A cell that is invaded by a virus can self-destruct, thereby preventing the virus from reproducing inside the cell and spreading to other cells. But some viruses have learned how to outsmart programmed cell death and prolong cell life.

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