There's a lot more "sex" going on between the oral and genital herpes viruses than scientists previously thought, according to a new study. The boat, named the Tara, has given scientists an unprecedented, detailed map of viruses in the marine ecosystem. A flu pandemic could strike without warning in the coming years, global health experts warn. Like the mythical monster Medusa, a newfound giant virus turns its host to "stone.
Weeks after a hotspot for anti-vaxxers turned into a hotspot for measles infections, it became a hotspot for vaccination. The World Health Organization has listed the anti-vaccine movement as a top global health threat in Viruses were discovered in , and yet even in , researchers are still uncovering new secrets about these infectious invaders. A common virus that typically causes only mild symptoms in adults might lead to heart defects in developing human fetuses.
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Viruses of the Human Body
Click here to return to the Medical News Today home page. Sometimes a virus can cause a disease so deadly that it is fatal. Other viral infections trigger no noticeable reaction. A virus may also have one effect on one type of organism, but a different effect on another. This explains how a virus that affects a cat may not affect a dog.
Viruses vary in complexity. Viruses cannot replicate without a host, so they are classified as parasitic.
Almost every ecosystem on Earth contains viruses. Before entering a cell, viruses exist in a form known as virions. During this phase, they are roughly one-hundredth the size of a bacterium and consist of two or three distinct parts:. Viruses do not contain a ribosome, so they cannot make proteins.
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This makes them totally dependent on their host. They are the only type of microorganism that cannot reproduce without a host cell.
The Human Virome | The Scientist Magazine®
After contacting a host cell, a virus will insert genetic material into the host and take over that host's functions. After infecting the cell, the virus continues to reproduce, but it produces more viral protein and genetic material instead of the usual cellular products. Other shapes are possible, including nonstandard shapes that combine both helical and icosahedral forms. Viruses do not leave fossil remains, so they are difficult to trace through time. Three competing theories try to explain the origin of viruses.
A virus exists only to reproduce. When it reproduces, its offspring spread to new cells and new hosts. Viruses may transmit from person to person, and from mother to child during pregnancy or delivery. Some viruses can live on an object for some time, so if a person touches an item with the virus on their hands, the next person can pick up that virus by touching the same object. The object is known as a fomite. As the virus replicates in the body, it starts to affect the host. After a period known as the incubation period, symptoms may start to show.
When a virus spreads, it can pick up some of its host's DNA and take it to another cell or organism. If the virus enters the host's DNA, it can affect the wider genome by moving around a chromosome or to a new chromosome. This can have long-term effects on a person. In humans, it may explain the development of hemophilia and muscular dystrophy. Some viruses only affect one type of being, say, birds. If a virus that normally affects birds does by chance enter a human, and if it picks up some human DNA, this can produce a new type of virus that may be more likely to affect humans in future.
Some viruses, such as the human papilloma virus HPV , can lead to cancer. Just as there are friendly bacteria that exist in our intestines and help us digest food, humans may also carry friendly viruses that help protect against dangerous bacteria, including Escherichia coli E. When the body's immune system detects a virus, it starts to respond , to enable cells to survive the attack. Their ubiquity and lack of acute pathogenicity does point to a long and successful coevolution with humans.
Because anelloviruses infect nearly everyone, however, their potential impact on heath is particularly difficult to determine. Beside the nearly universal blood-borne viruses described above, a cornucopia of other recently discovered viruses can be detected in respiratory and fecal samples of healthy persons, particularly children. These viruses include a growing number of astroviruses, parvoviruses, picornaviruses, picobirnaviruses, and others whose roles in health and disease also remain largely unknown.
See illustration here. This flood of new information regarding our virome indicates that, even when in perfect health, we are chronically infected by several types of viruses and often transiently infected by yet others. The perception that every human virus causes disease is therefore yielding to a much more complex biological reality.
Research funding has generally followed the actual or anticipated disease burden caused by clearly pathogenic viruses such as HIV, HCV, or, recently, Zika virus. Given the large number of viruses detected in healthy hosts, it is likely that some of the viruses initially found in sick hosts are simply harmless coincidental infections. Thus, before newly characterized viruses are deemed pathogenic, and therefore worthy of public or commercial investments, their disease-causing abilities must be stringently vetted.
To assess pathogenicity, researchers still rely on the four postulates for pathogenicity established by German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch in the late s: 1 the agent is found in only those people with the disease, 2 the agent can be isolated from diseased individuals, 3 inoculation with the agent causes disease, and 4 the virus can be reisolated from the inoculated individuals.
But satisfying these postulates for human viruses is a tall order. Firstly, many viruses cannot be purified and grown in culture. Moreover, because human inoculations are unethical, researchers need to use animal models, such as rhesus macaques and mice—and many human viruses only infect humans. Alternatively, researchers can try to demonstrate that the virus is found replicating at the site of pathology: the liver for hepatitis, for example, or the brain for encephalitis. Detecting only a single virus in diseased tissues—a feat made possible by deep sequencing—can also provide supporting evidence for its culpability.
But this approach also has its limitations, as human necropsies are costly and thus rarely performed, often leaving blood as the only available tissue type for study.
4 Germs and disease
In such cases, measuring the emergence of antibody response to a new virus to show that the timing of the viral infection corresponds to the onset of the immune response can help identify a likely culprit. Case-control studies that compare virus detection rates in patients or animals with similar symptoms versus healthy controls can provide powerful evidence of virus-disease association.
Such studies control for age, geographic origin, gender, socioeconomic status, and even time of year of sample collection, leaving only the disease state to differentiate the two groups. Most viruses are neither consistently pathogenic nor always harmless, but rather can result in different outcomes depending on the health and immunological status of their hosts. The less pathogenic a virus is—the lower the percentage of infected people who become sick—the larger such case-control studies need to be to detect a difference between the groups. Viral infections at a young age may help our immune system develop properly, providing protection against later infections and preventing immune overreactions that lead to allergies.
Viral infections of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts of healthy infants are now known to be common and often asymptomatic, likely thanks to protection by maternal antibodies delivered across the placenta and via breast milk.
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Such attenuated infections might provide a form of natural vaccination against later infections with related, more-pathogenic viruses. Just as the proper development of the human gut and immune system in infants is dependent on the presence of a bacterial gut microbiome, a recent study found that early enteric viral infection could have a similar beneficial effect in mice.
Commensal viruses may also provide protection against pathogenic infections with other viruses. This virus, known as pegivirus C or GBV-C, was originally discovered in an unexplained case of acute hepatitis, 6 but researchers subsequently showed it to be a common infection unrelated to the disease. Another potential benefit of resident viruses is related to their preference for rapidly dividing cells.
Anecdotal observations of spontaneous cancer regressions coincidental with viral infections have indicated that viruses may preferentially infect cancer cells, and several promising oncolytic viral therapies are being developed to fight human tumors.