How do viruses cause infection?

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Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
In order to cause disease, the pathogen or a disease-causing microbe entering the body must reproduce in sufficient numbers before it is overwhelmed by the body's immune response. Viruses are a marvel of biological simplicity, consisting of only a thread of genetic code inside a protective coat. Viruses can travel lightly because they reproduce themselves by breaching the wall of a healthy cell and commandeering the cell's biological equipment. This invasion and takeover permits the virus to mass-produce thousands of copies of itself inside the host cell. The progeny viruses then leave the infected cell and move on to repeat the pattern in nearby healthy cells. Although highly efficient, an individual virus can infect only certain types of cells. While viruses travel about the body in the bloodstream, they are relatively harmless. They become dangerous when they are replicating inside a cell.

Continue Learning about Viral Infections

Viral Infections

Viral Infections

Viral infections like herpes simplex, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), chicken pox and rotavirus are infections caused by a virus instead of a bacterium. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics, but some specific viruses ...

like influenza A and B can be treated with certain antiviral medications. Most commonly, treatment for viral infections includes drinking lots of fluids, getting rest, eating well and letting the illness run its course.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.