Viruses are among the most common microbes affecting humans. These microscopic organisms spread easily, usually via person-to-person contact or through exposure to body fluids, such as blood, mucous or saliva. Once inside the body, viruses reproduce quickly, sometimes overwhelming the body’s natural defenses. When this happens, viruses can cause different diseases, some mild and others potentially fatal. Unfortunately only a handful of effective antiviral medications exist. Most of the time, treatment for a viral infection involves dealing with the symptoms until the end of the infection.
Viruses cause many respiratory infections. Rhinovirus, coronavirus and adenovirus cause the common cold. The influenza, or flu, virus can cause upper respiratory infection and pneumonia. Another respiratory virus, called RSV, causes a respiratory infection called bronchiolitis in infants and toddlers. The symptoms of bronchiolitis include dry cough, rapid breathing and wheezing, a high-pitched noise sick children make when trying to exhale.
Viruses cause viral gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu. This common illness, characterized by diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, is caused by many different viruses, but not the influenza virus. According to a 2012 article in the journal “American Family Physician,” viruses cause between 75 and 90 percent of acute gastrointestinal disease in children. Rotavirus is the most common viral cause of gastroenteritis among children. Norovirus is the leading cause of viral gastroenteritis outbreaks. Other viruses that cause stomach flu include adenovirus, calicivirus and astrovirus. Most cases of viral gastroenteritis clear on their own within 2 to 4 days, but dehydration may require medical treatment.
Symptoms of viral infection vary depending on the type of viral infection, the area of the body that is infected, the age and health history of the patient and other factors. The symptoms of viral infection can also resemble symptoms of other diseases, such as bacterial infections. Symptoms may affect almost any area of the body or body system and include fever, chills, headache and much more.
Viral diseases result in a wide variety of symptoms that vary in character and severity depending on the type of viral infection and other factors, including the person’s age and overall health. Common symptoms of viral diseases include flu-like symptoms and malaise.
Viral diseases are not treatable with antibiotics, which can only cure bacterial diseases and infections. However, the most common viral diseases, the common cold and the flu, are self-limiting in generally healthy people. This means that the viral infection causes illness for a period of time, then it resolves and symptoms disappear as your immune system attacks the virus and your body recovers.
The first step in treating viral infection is preventing its occurrence and spread. Vaccines are available to prevent some common viral infections, such as chickenpox, shingles, influenza, HPV, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, measles and mumps.
Prevention of the spread of harmful viruses that cause viral infection also includes frequent hand washing and covering the mouth and nose with a tissue during sneezing or coughing. It is also important to avoid contact with a person who has a viral disease. Prevention of sexually transmitted viral infections, such as HIV/AIDS includes abstaining from sexual contact. The proper and consistent use of male or female condoms also provides some protection.
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