Overview of viral infections
Though bacterial and viral infections are different, they have a lot in common. For example, the ways of contraction in most cases are the same: some infections are airborne; others are spread through a sexual intercourse, in sharing of the same personal hygiene utensils, through saliva, contaminated surfaces, food, and water, in direct contact with infected tissues, and so on.
Both viral infections and bacterial infections can cause three types of diseases: acute, chronic, and latent.
Acute infections usually are the easiest to treat and are present for quite short period of time. However, if not treated properly, they tend to transform into chronic or latent infections which are much harder to eliminate.
Chronic infections tend to exacerbate several times a year in a poor immune system. The exacerbations commonly have the symptoms very similar to those of an acute infection.
Latent infections can be present in the body for years without any manifestation. Usually, they are discovered during a thorough checkup, when a doctor decides to check if a patient has this particular infection or virus in their body. The danger of the latent infection is that the person who is infected but doesn’t know about it can be a carrier and infect other people.
The first references to viruses are dated about 650 BCE, when Homer mentioned in his works “rabid dogs.” As it was much later discovered, rabies is caused by a virus. Poliomyelitis, which is also caused by a virus, is considered to be depicted in some of the ancient Egyptian drawings.
The field of science that studies viruses and creates treatment for viral infections is called virology. The first research in the field was started in the late 19th century by Louis Pasteur and Edward Jenner who developed first antiviral vaccines. Though then, the scientists were unable to explain the nature and mechanism of action of viruses.
The first discovery of viruses’ presence was made by the Russian botanist Dmitry Ivanovsky. His report in which the word “virus” was used for the first time is dated 1892. The discovery was made when the researcher was trying to find a cause of massive tobacco plants degeneration. He used porcelain Chamberland filters with microscopic pores through which bacteria could not pass yet a certain pathogen could as he noted because the leaves of tobacco were still contaminated and showed signs of further deterioration while not being exposed to any bacteria.
Further research on the matter by Felix d'Herelle, a French-Canadian microbiologist, lead to a discovery of multiple viruses by the early 20th century.
Difference between bacterial and viral infections
The main difference between the bacterial and viral infections is that viruses are much smaller than bacteria. Though both pathogens cannot be seen without a microscope, the size of virus cells is much smaller and is calculated in nanometers. In other words, even the biggest viral cell is much smaller than the smallest bacterial cell.
They also differ in the shape and composition of the cell: bacterial cells are more complex than virus cells. They have a tough wall and slender, elastic membrane surrounding the fluid inside the cell. Bacteria can also survive without a host for a long time in the environment, in extreme temperatures and in a high level of radiation. The bacteria can replicate on their own.
Virus cells are not only smaller; they are also simpler in composition: they have a center made of RNA or DNA and a protective protein coating. Viruses cannot survive without a host. They reproduce only attaching to the host’s cells making them transform into virus cells thus killing the healthy cells. They are also able to transform normal cells into cancerous cells that start to replicate continuously. Unlike bacteria, viruses are also quite specific about what cells they attack. For example, some viruses attack only liver cells, e.g. hepatitis. There are also cases when viruses attack the bacteria necessary for a healthy body, for example, in the intestines.
Statistics and epidemiology of viral infections
The most dangerous virus infections currently are rabies, HIV, viral hemorrhagic fevers, Hepatitis C and B, Ebola, and mutated influenza viruses. Some of the diseases associated with these and other deadly viruses can be easily prevented through vaccination. For example, if previously small pox and polio were inevitably fatal or left the affected person disabled, today only people who are not vaccinated can suffer serious complications when contracting the infections.
Fortunately, though there are no vaccines for HIV, hepatitis, and other serious viral infections, today’s’ medications are able to help the affected people to live a long and painless life. Nevertheless, when untreated, even influenza can be fatal.
According to the statistics, yearly from 500 millions of people infected with influenza virus, 200 thousand die of complications. Around 4% of people sick with Hepatitis C who do not receive appropriate and timely treatment die because of the virus yearly.
As for rabies, unfortunately, if a person who contracted the disease doesn’t get an appropriate help within first 12 hours after exposure, which consists of the preventive treatment course with vaccines, then there is nothing much doctors can do. To date, the mortality from rabies is 100%.
One of the most widespread viral infections in the world is herpes. Around 80% of total world population is infected with herpes simplex which is commonly manifested as cold sores on the lips. It doesn’t require any serious treatment besides application of antiviral ointments on the affected areas and/or immunotherapy to help the immune system suppress the virus by itself and reduce the number of outbreaks. As for genital herpes, around 45% of Americans have it without even knowing. The reason for that is that the disease can be present for many years without any manifestation, i.e. in a latent form. Unfortunately, the virus is easily spread through an unprotected intercourse and even during labor from mother to the baby. However, it is not deadly and can be easily suppressed with antiviral drugs.
Signs and symptoms of viral infections
Considering that virus infections attack different parts and organs of the body, it is impossible to name symptoms and signs common for all of them. However, some viral infections do have similar symptoms:
- Respiratory tract viral infections have the following symptoms: nasal congestion, coughing, fever, muscle pain, indigestion, headache, and others. These symptoms are typical for the majority of viral infections that cause flu.
- Gastrointestinal tract viral infections include gastroenteritis commonly caused by viruses, such as noroviruses and rotaviruses. The symptoms include: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, tremor, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pains, and others.
- Viral infections that attack liver are called hepatitis. It can be of different forms and severity. For example, hepatitis A and B are able to produce lesser harm to the liver and can stay unnoticed longer than hepatitis C. Though, without an appropriate and timely treatment all types of hepatitis can lead to liver failure, liver scarring, and even cancer development. The danger of hepatitis is that symptoms start to manifest when the disease has already damaged the liver substantially. They include: chronic fatigue, yellowish white of the eye and skin, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain in the right part of the abdomen, yellowish stool, and others.
- Viruses that attack the nervous system are either affecting the brain or spinal cord. They cause meningitis, rabies, and encephalitis. The symptoms can vary in severity and some of them may be absent but if even some of them occur, you should immediately seek medical assistance: seizures, dizziness, fever, hearing loss, blurred vision, nausea, speech defects, loss of extremity function, and others.
- Skin viral infections also vary in symptoms, but the most noticeable ones include: redness of the affected area, localized pain, rash, itching, and swelling. The complicated and untreated infections signs include the occurrence of blisters, pus, skin sloughing, breakdown, and necrosis.
- HIV symptoms can be unnoticed or even not manifested at all for long periods of time. The first symptoms can be flu-like conditions with coughing, sneezing, fever, and so on. Later, a patient with HIV can develop advanced infections. The best way to prevent HIV is to avoid unprotected sexual intercourses with partners who are not tested and get yourself tested right away if you have been exposed.
- Herpes can be of different forms. The most common herpes is herpes simplex that occurs on the lips, the symptoms are itching and burning sensations with subsequent development of blisters that go away within a week. Genital herpes has the same symptoms but is localized on the genitals. However, genital herpes often requires the intake of antiviral medication to suppress the infection and can reoccur often if not treated properly. Another type of virus, herpes zoster, usually manifests as skin reddening on one side of the body accompanied by severe pain and rash. It also requires treatment with antiviral medications and also painkillers. Chicken pox, another widespread herpes type occurs in people who are not vaccinated. It manifests in blisters covering all of the body, fever, itching, and burning of the affected areas. It is advised to get the vaccine in the early age because the disease is mostly dangerous for adults. If you haven’t been vaccinated, then antiviral therapy under doctor’s supervision is crucial.
Most of the viral infections are manifested in a more severe manner in infants. They are also much more dangerous for infants and toddlers. Therefore, if the symptoms listed below are typical for your child, immediately seek medical assistance.
Complications of viral infections
It is not uncommon for a viral infection to be complicated with a bacterial infection. For example, if you haven’t properly treated flu and had enough bed rest, you can develop bacterial bronchitis, sinusitis, or even pneumonia and brain bacterial infection.
Other complications include the damage to the body that is done by the virus solely. For example, the virus of hepatitis C is able to fully destroy liver within just a couple of years if untreated. HIV virus if untreated transforms into AIDS which if untreated can lead to untimely death due to any of even the mildest infections because the immune system is already compromised by the virus.
Diagnosis of viral infections
- Respiratory tract viral infections usually do not require specific tests. The diagnosis is made by a doctor on the basis of a patient’s survey and physical examination.
- If a doctor suspects that you have a gastrointestinal tract viral infection based on the symptoms you report, he or she will make you do laboratory tests used for culture or antigen detection from stool specimens to confirm the diagnosis and identify what kind of virus is causing the disease to recommend an appropriate treatment. In some cases, if the outbreak of viral infection is reported, a doctor can prescribe you the treatment without doing prior tests.
- Viral hepatitis is diagnosed based on the symptoms that a patient reports and blood tests for liver enzymes, viral antibodies, and viral genetic materials.
- Viruses that attack the nervous system are diagnosed based on the symptoms. If your doctor thinks that you may be suffering from a viral infection, he or she will make you do laboratory tests of blood, computerized tomography or magnetic resonance scans, and in some cases, a lumbar puncture.
- Skin viral infections are diagnosed based on the symptoms reported, physical examination, blood tests for pathogens, and viral immunofluorescence, i.e. tests of the small particles of skin affected.
- HIV diagnosis is made through blood tests. As there are rarely any specific symptoms during the early stage of virus development in the body, it is advised to take tests regularly for people who have multiple sexual partners, doctors and staff who works with people infected with HIV, and in general people, who may be exposed.
- Herpes can be diagnosed during a physical exam but if your doctor suspects that you have genital herpes which manifests in a similar manner as other sexually transmitted infections, he or she can make you do HSV testing, i.e. herpes culture to confirm the diagnosis. For the test, your doctor will take a swab sample of fluid from the sore and then send it to a laboratory. In some cases, especially, if sores are not present, blood tests for antibodies to HSV-1 and HSV-2 are advised.
Prevention of viral infections
The best way to prevent certain viruses since the beginning of the 20th century is vaccination. The vaccines helped to reduce the number of complications and deaths caused by poliomyelitis, chickenpox, measles, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and others drastically.
- Another way to prevent viral diseases is to try to minimize your contact with people who are having flu as the virus spreads by sneezing, coughing, and so on. You should also keep your rooms and office well-ventilated during the influenza season; clean your table or other surfaces a sick person touched with antiseptic.
- To prevent gastrointestinal tract viral infection, you should always wash vegetables and fruits with clean running water before you eat them. If you are in a country infamous for the bad quality of tap water, stick to bottled water only.
- To prevent hepatitis, you should avoid unprotected sex with an untested partner, and undergo any surgical procedures, including dental operations only in certified and accredited clinics. If one of your family members suffers from hepatitis A, you should avoid sharing the same meal from a single bowl, wash plates and cutlery thoroughly before serving food in dishes that a sick person uses as hepatitis A is spread in a domestic way.
- The prevention of viral infections that attack the nervous system differs depending on the infection. For instance, to protect yourself from bites of ticks who are carriers of encephalitis, it is advised to wear clothes covering all body parts and a hat if you go to a forest or a park during the peak season of ticks’ activity. To prevent meningitis, it is advised to keep your head warm during the cold days, have bed rest whenever you get a respiratory viral infection, and seek medical assistance if the symptoms do not go away in 5 days.
- Skin infections can be prevented by sanitizing all wounds and even the slightest skin damages with alcohol, covering them with bands, and seeking medical assistance in case of an inflamed or swelled wound. It is also advised to avoid direct contact with people who have a viral skin infection.
- The protection from HIV requires a protected intercourse (barrier contraception) with a person who is HIV-positive, use of sterile medical supplies such as syringes, and use of antiretroviral medications as prescribed by doctors in case your partner is infected.
- To prevent genital herpes infection, the only reasonable protection during the intercourse is barrier contraception. To avoid herpes simplex infection or cold sores, it is advised to avoid direct contact with a person who has a cold sore, i.e. kissing, touching the affected area, or sharing the same cups or cutlery.
Management with medications
The treatment of viral infections is more complicated than the treatment of bacterial infections. Due to the fact that their cells are much smaller than the bacterial cells, it is sometimes quite hard to give the right diagnosis before the virus spreads in the body substantially. Another problem is that in the majority of cases, viruses cannot be completely eliminated from the body as they commonly become resistant to the drugs. The therapies available to date are able only to suppress the viral infections such as HIV, hepatitis C, herpes, flu, and others.
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For the influenza type A, we offer Generic Symmetrel (Amantadine).
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Before you buy any medication from our online pharmacy, read the medication guides available at the respective product pages in order to find out whether the drug is suitable for you or not. If you are not sure in your diagnosis or do not have precise indications how to use the drug you plan to buy from your doctor, make sure to consult him or her and do the necessary tests first. Keep in mind that viral infections are highly contagious and if you have a sexual partner you have to check him or her to and get them an appropriate prevention or treatment if they are also infected.