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Superkingdom Viruses


orthomyxovirus, human viruses, virus life cycle, rhinovirus, rare skin disease

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Most viral infections cause no symptoms and do not result in disease. For example, only a small percentage of individuals who become infected with Epstein-Barr virus or western equine encephalomyelitis virus ever develop disease symptoms. In contrast, most people who are infected with measles, rabies, or influenza viruses develop the disease. A wide variety of viral and host factors determine the outcome of virus infections. A small genetic variation can produce a virus with increased capacity to cause disease. Such a virus is said to have increased virulence.

Viruses can enter the body by several routes. Herpes simplex virus and poxviruses enter through the skin by direct contact with virus-containing skin lesions on infected individuals. Ebola, hepatitis B, and HIV can be contracted from infected blood products. Hypodermic needles and animal and insect bites can transmit a variety of viruses through the skin. Viruses that infect through the respiratory tract are usually transmitted by airborne droplets of mucus or saliva from infected individuals who cough or sneeze. Viruses that enter through the respiratory tract include orthomyxovirus (influenza), rhinovirus and adenovirus (common cold), and varicella-zoster virus (chicken pox). Viruses such as rotavirus, coronavirus, poliovirus, hepatitis A, and some adenoviruses enter the host through the gastrointestinal tract. Sexually transmitted viruses, such as herpes simplex, HIV, and human papilloma viruses (HPV), gain entry through the genitourinary route. Other viruses, including some adenoviruses, echoviruses, Coxsackie viruses, and herpesviruses, can infect through the eye.

Virus infections can be either localized or systemic. The path of virus spread through the body in systemic infections differs among different viruses. Following replication at the initial site of entry, many viruses are spread to their target organs by the bloodstream or the nervous system.

The particular cell type can influence the outcome of virus infection. For example, herpes simplex virus undergoes lytic replication in skin cells around the lips but can establish a latent or dormant state in neuron cell bodies (located in ganglia) for extended periods of time. During latency, the viral genome is largely dormant in the cell nucleus until a stimulus such as a sunburn causes the reactivation of latent herpesvirus, leading to the lytic replication cycle. Once reactivated, the virus travels from the ganglia back down the nerve to cause a cold sore on the lip near the original site of infection. The herpesvirus genome does not integrate into the host cell genome.

Virus-induced illnesses can be either acute, in which the patient recovers promptly, or chronic, in which the virus remains with the host or the damage caused by the virus is irreparable. For most acute viruses, the time between infection and the onset of disease can vary from three days to three weeks. In contrast, onset of AIDS following infection with HIV takes an average of 7 to 11 years.

Several human viruses are likely to be agents of cancer, which can take decades to develop. The precise role of these viruses in human cancers is not well understood, and genetic and environmental factors are likely to contribute to these diseases. But because a number of viruses have been shown to cause tumors in animal models, it is probable that many viruses have a key role in human cancers.

Some viruses—alphaviruses and flaviviruses, for example—must be able to infect more than one species to complete their life cycles. Eastern equine encephalomyelitis virus, an alphavirus, replicates in mosquitoes and is transmitted to wild birds when the mosquitoes feed. Thus, wild birds and perhaps mammals and reptiles serve as the virus reservoir, and mosquitoes serve as vectors essential to the virus life cycle by ensuring transmission of the virus from one host to another. Horses and people are accidental hosts when they are bitten by an infected mosquito, and they do not play an important role in virus transmission.

Human Papilloma Viruses

Human Papillomavirus (HPV), family of viruses that causes warts and has been implicated as a possible cause of genital cancers and, more recently, cancers and other abnormal growths of the eye. More than 50 types of HPV have been differentiated; for example, type 2 causes warts on the hands, type 6 is associated with genital warts, and type 13 causes flat, wartlike lesions in the mouth. Types 16 and 18 are the ones possibly linked with cancers, but several others are associated with a rare skin disease that may also become cancerous. The viruses may be transmitted congenitally and sexually, as well as by other means of contact; vaccines to control them are under development.

Article key phrases:

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