An Overview About Viral Diseases And Antiviral Drugs
There are many viral diseases, starting from the common cold to the most deadly diseases such as Ebola. More than 200 virus species are known to infect humans, and new species are also discovered every year. Let’s discuss the basics of viral diseases, how they spread, and what are antiviral drugs?
Viruses are very small infectious agents that contain the genetic substance DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coating. They cannot multiply on their own. They must infect the living cells of animals, plants, or bacteria to grow and multiply.
In this process, they often kill host cells and cause damage to the organism. In some cases, the virus may remain in the host cell without multiplying or damaging it. This inactive virus can become active at any time and can infect others.
Older adults, immune-compromised individuals, and malnourished people are more prone to viral infections. Some of the factors that are more likely to develop complications from viral diseases are having high stress levels, history of chronic diseases such as tuberculosis, diabetes, or lack of hygiene practices.
Some of the common viral infections are:
- Common cold
- Influenza (flu)
Some examples of chronic or life-threatening viral diseases are:
- Hepatitis B and C
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Genital herpes
How Do Viral Diseases Spread?
Each virus spreads differently, and a person could get infected in one of the below ways:
- Inhaling the respiratory droplets from an infected person while he/ she talks, sneezes, or coughs.
- Direct contact with contaminated bodily fluids such as blood, urine, feces, saliva, vomit, semen, or sweat of a sick person.
- Being bitten by insects such as mosquitoes infected with a virus, such as Zika and chikungunya.
- Touching virus contaminated surfaces such as personal items, tabletops, doorknobs, etc.
- During pregnancy or delivery - Viruses such as cytomegalovirus pass from an infected mother to the baby.
- Using infected needles for tattooing.
- Eating food or drinking water contaminated with the virus. When an infected person doesn’t wash their hands properly after using the restroom can transfer the virus to water or food.
- Being bitten by animals infected with the virus. E.g.: Rabies virus.
Antiviral medications are used to treat viral infections. They inhibit the development of viruses and ease symptoms, and they are also useful in lowering the risk of getting or spreading viral infections. The medications which are used to treat retroviral infections (mainly HIV) are called antiretroviral medicines. Mild illnesses will not require antiviral drugs, and people will recover naturally.
Physicians will prescribe antiviral medications for chronic and life-threatening infections. Each antiviral drug available generally works against a specific virus. Since the viruses reproduce inside the cells, it makes them harder to target and creates a challenge in developing antiviral drugs. Most of the antiviral medicines are oral medicines, but they are also available as injections, eye drops, creams, and ointments.
Examples of antiviral drugs:
Examples of antiretroviral drugs:
What Do Antiviral Drugs Do?
Viruses bind to the host cell, enter them, and make copies of themselves. Antiviral medications work in different ways in order to inhibit the virus. Some antiviral agents block the receptors and prevent the virus's binding with cells.
Some drugs stimulate the immune system to fight against viral infections. Some drugs prevent the production of viral proteins which are essential for reproduction and lower the viral load in the body.
Depending on the type and dose of medications, the side effects caused by them differ. The common side effects of these medications are dry mouth, diarrhea, dizziness, tiredness, headaches, sleeping troubles, joint pain, muscle pain, skin rash, nausea and vomiting.
Prolonged use of antiviral medications may create drug-resistant viruses, meaning that viruses would no longer respond to the initially prescribed medicine. Newer and advanced medications would be used in such cases. Skipping doses and improper use of antiviral medicines also creates resistance.
How To Lower The Risk Of Viral Infections?
- Vaccinations can reduce serious illness from infections as well as the spread of infections. Take the recommended vaccinations without fail.
- Maintain good nutrition and sleep.
- Wash your hands at least for fifteen seconds using soap after contact with a person with viral disease, before eating and after using the restroom.
- Avoid direct contact with handkerchiefs or personal items used by infected people. Cover the nose and mouth while you sneeze or cough. If the tissue or kerchief is not near you, sneeze or cough into elbows rather than into the hands.
- Follow safe sex practices.
- Make sure that the new needles are used while getting tattoos.
The Bottom Note:
Avoid getting sick by following the healthy practices mentioned above. When the doctor prescribes antiviral medication for your illness, take them as prescribed to get well.