Tuesday, 11 February 2014

What is a Virus?

Associate Professor Allen Cheng, (DEPM Infectious Diseases Unit) demystifies the virus in his article “Explainer: What is a virus?” in “The Conversation”.
Viruses cause everything from the common cold to Ebola, HIV/AIDS to influenza. Many viruses can cause cancer, for example the hepatitis B virus is a known cause of liver cancer, while some types of human papillomavirus can cause cervical cancer.

Some viruses can be prevented through vaccination. The best vaccines have even resulted in the eradication of diseases, such as smallpox and rinderpest.

Antiviral treatments are a very recent development in the treatment of viruses. Most antivirals attempt to block one or more points in the viral replication cycle. Many antiviral medications used to treat HIV and herpes simplex (which causes cold sores), for instance, jam the replication mechanism itself. Other antivirals interfere with the mechanism viruses use to enter or exit host cells (such as oseltamivir for influenza), while others stimulate the immune system to seek and destroy virally-infected cells (such as interferon for hepatitis C).

And as for the debate about whether viruses should be considered a form of life, most scientists argue that although viruses exhibit some of the characteristics of living organisms (they have genes, evolve by natural selection and create copies of themselves) they aren’t alive because they can’t replicate by themselves.

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