Viruses only exist to make more viruses. With the possible exception of bacterial viruses that kill harmful bacteria, all viruses appear to be harmful because their replication leads to the death of the cell that the virus entered. A virus enters a cell by first attaching itself to a specific structure on the cell’s surface via a particular body part on the virus’s surface. Depending on the virus, either the entire virus enters the cell or perhaps only the genetic material of the virus is injected into the cell. In either case, the ultimate result of viral infection comes from the exposure of virus genetic material inside the entered cell.
Afterwards, the virus material essentially “takes over” the cell and nothing but viral parts are made, which assemble into many complete viruses. These viruses are mature and leave the cell either by a process called “budding” (just one or a few viruses at a time leave the cell) or by a process called lysis (the cellular membrane ruptures and releases all of the virus particles at once). Viral infections may be the next most common infections next to bacterial and fungal infections.
Treatment of Viruses
- Immune System. Let your immune system handle it. Humans are protected from viruses in a couple of ways. First, if a particular virus infects one or more cells of a given tissue in your body, the infection leads to the synthesis and secretion of substances called interferons. Interferons are proteins and may be designated as alpha, beta or gamma interferon). These proteins interact with adjacent cells, which help them become more resistant to infection by the virus.Sometimes, this resistance isn’t quite good enough to prevent the spread of the virus to more and more cells, and you begin to feel sick. At this point, the body’s immune system takes over and begins to fight the infection by killing the virus on the outside of the cells and killing the infected cells too. The killing of the infected cells prevents the spread of the virus, since a virus requires a living cell in order for it to be able to replicate.Eventually, the virus will be completely removed, and you’ll get over the illness. HIV is an exception to this situation because HIV infects cells of the immune system itself, which are necessary to kill the infected cells. So, although HIV does not itself directly cause the condition known as AIDS, the eventual death of immune cells due to infection with HIV allows other infections to harm a person.
- Antiviral Agents. Recently, there have been agents designed in the laboratory and isolated from natural sources that are being used to fight certain viral infections. These agents are not called antibiotics; however, since they are effective only for viruses and have not been isolated from other organisms capable of killing a virus. So far, no agents have been identified that are secreted by a cell that actually kills a virus. You may be familiar with the drug called Acyclovir, which is used to inhibit the replication of Herpes virus, and AZT and HIV protease inhibitors, which are used to inhibit the replication of HIV.
- Bacterial Virus. Plants are protected from certain viruses by substances that coat leaves and stems and “closing-off” systems that generate a walled-off area within the plant at the source of the infection. Bacteria can be protected from bacterial-specific viruses through the action of enzymes inside the bacterium’s cell. Even so, if a bacterial virus (called a bacteriophage) infects one cell, usually within a very short time, all of the bacterial cells will be killed. If there are no other bacterial cells of that particular species around for that particular virus, then the virus will die as well.
Treatment by Virus Type
There are many kinds of viruses out there today: The common cold, the flu (influenza), shingles, herpes, mono, chicken pox, bronchiolitis, croup and laryngitis are all very common infections caused by various strains of viruses. Usually, a virus (like those that cause the common cold) are allowed to run their course with little medical intervention. However, antiviral drugs and immunizations have been developed to help fight some of the more dangerous diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, polio, smallpox and even genital warts (HPV). In any case, here’s how to get rid two of the more common viral conditions on the planet:
- Antiviral Medication. Antiviral medication won’t help you get rid of a cold, but acetaminophen will help ease your pain. Pain medications like Tylenol, Panadol and Dayquil are the most common treatments for colds because instead of using aspirin to treat cold symptoms, they use acetaminophen. Some people say acetaminophen doesn’t work as well as aspirin, but if you consider the consequences (Reye’s syndrome) of giving aspirin to a child when they have the flu, you’ll understand why doctors prefer Tylenol.
- Antihistamines. Antihistamines are a good cold treatment if you’re having sinus pain and congestion. Antihistamines like Benadryl, Allegra and Claritin will help keep inflammation of the sinuses and other related cold symptoms down, while decongestants like Sudafed will keep your nose from plugging and dripping so much. There are combination medicines like Claritin D, Allegra D and Sudafed Plus that contain both antihistamines and decongestants.
- Expectorants and Humidifiers. Expectorants and humidifiers can help you get rid of a cold. Expectorants are medicines that help breakup the phlegm in your lungs so you can cough it up and breath easier. Robitussin Severe Congestion Liqui-Gels, Vicks 44E and Extra Action Cough Syrup are good over-the-counter expectorants. Couple these medications with a humidifier and some eucalyptus oil and you should start to feel less of the cold in your lungs.
- Fluid Intake. The single most important cold treatment to help you get rid of a cold is fluid intake. Keep yourself hydrated with sports drinks. Every time people have been to the hospital or the clinic, the doctor has told them and their loved ones that sports drinks are the best hydrating formulas you can buy. Why? Because they have electrolytes like potassium, sodium and chloride, which help your body absorb the fluids. The sugars also help give your body energy it might be losing from a lack of food.
- Decongestants. Most medicines contain antihistamines that make you drowsy, but to counteract the drowsiness, they also contain decongestants that tend to speed your heartrate and cause insomnia. Medications like Dayquil and Nyquil are a good idea because the Dayquil contains more decongestants that keep you up during the day, and Nyquil contains the antihistamines that put you to sleep.
- Flu Shot. Getting a flu shot before the flu season begins is always a good idea. Sure, the day or two after you get the shot, you feel some of the symptoms, but wouldn’t you rather feel light-headed for a day than feel like human waste for a week? The beginning of October is a good time to ask your doctor about the availability of flu shots. People who should get the flu shot are people who work in public education, health or transportation, where contact with a large number of people is unavoidable.
- Avoiding Crowds. Staying away from large crowds and populated areas during the flu season is a good idea. If you don’t have the flu already, it’s a good idea to keep a good distance between you and the people who might have it, making sure to practice good hygiene if you must go out in public. Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth until you have washed your hands. If you have the flu already, then save people the pain of experiencing the flu symptoms you have and call in sick. You deserve it.
- Stress Management. Manage your stress to avoid the flu. One study after another confirms that the efficiency of your immune system is dependent on the way you manage your stress. If you’re stressing out, you get fatigued, you get depressed and, for whatever reason, your immune system gets depressed as well. Get some exercise. Go for a run. Don’t worry, you can’t catch a cold from the cold. That’s a myth. But bundle up; lowering your body temperature doesn’t do wonders for your immune system either.
- Antiviral Medications. Antiviral medications will help cure the flu. The CDC recommends that you begin taking antiviral flu medication no more than 2 days after coming down with the flu. The antiviral medication should be taken for 4-5 consecutive days, and if used properly, it should relieve your symptoms 1-2 days sooner than someone who doesn’t take flu medication.
- Fluid Intake. Drink a lot of fluids to fight the flu. Without fail, when you’re sick, you must drink plenty of fluids. Fluids don’t necessarily help fight the flu, they keep you hydrated in a situation where dehydration could become a serious complication. Don’t drink just any fluids; drink fluids that have electrolytes like sodium, potassium, or chloride. Gatorade and other sports drinks are the fluids most recommended by doctors, and those are basically Pedialyte with manly names.
Viruses are an interesting pathogen, because they aren’t technically considered “alive” because they have no cellular structure, but they do indeed reproduce and evolve, causing some of the most common infectious disease people know today.
Anyway, although viruses can be difficult to diagnose on clinical grounds, a general practitioners should be able to diagnose your symptoms and give you proper treatment. As always, doctors know best in regards to viral extermination, and vaccinations definitely won’t hurt in the long run.
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