Canada Med Pharmacy

Understanding Common Viral Infections

Wednesday 14 October 2020
6 minute(s) read
Dr..Jubil Tom

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jubil Tom, MD

on 10 November 2020

Table of Contents

I. What is a Virus?

II. What’s the Difference Between Fungal, Bacterial, and Viral Infections?

III. Viral Skin Infections

IV. Respiratory Tract Infections

V. Other Types of Virus

VI. General Treatments

What is a Virus?

Almost everyone has experienced a viral infection of some form in their life. Viruses can range widely from the average seasonal flu to debilitating and serious conditions that must be treated immediately. A virus is a small particle of genetic material surrounded by a protein coat. They can increase on their own once they enter a host, but not all viruses are dangerous. Of course, we all associate viruses with negative, pathogenic illnesses. Many viruses protect their host against other infections.

a slide with growing bacteria

Viruses can affect any body system, including the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and reproductive systems. Many viruses cannot be treated with traditional medicine and must run their course, but some virus symptoms can be managed with specific drugs. Depending on your type of virus, you may be prescribed Zovirax (Acyclovir) or Valtrex (Valacyclovir) for less severe viral conditions like cold sores of the mouth. Zovirax is available in oral forms, along with cream, depending on your diagnosis.

On the more severe side of viral infections, there are also medications like Kaletra (lopinavir/ritonavir) and Isentress (raltegravir) to treat sexually transmitted viruses like HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). Read on to learn more about the symptoms and treatments for common viral infections. [1]


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What’s the Difference Between Fungal, Bacterial, and Viral Infections?

An infection can occur for several reasons. An infection happens when a microorganism enters the body and causes harm. Once in the body, a virus can reproduce quickly. These pathogens can include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Some pathogens can get in the body and not cause any negative side effects, while others may wreak havoc. So what’s the difference between all of these pathogens?

Viruses are smaller than bacteria and need a host to take over cells, while bacteria can survive without a live host. Bacteria are single-celled microorganisms and can live in any environment. There are millions of bacteria; some are “good,” while others can cause sickness. Unlike viruses, bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics.

Fungal infections are multicellular parasites that absorb organic matter, such as yeasts and single-celled parasites. Fungi spread through spores and may infect the upper layers of the skin, but may progress to deeper layers and cause complications. Some inhaled fungal spores can cause infections through the body, like pneumonia. If you think you are experiencing an infection, it is essential to seek a doctor's advice so your specific infection can be treated properly. [2]

Viral Skin Infections

Skin infections that stem from viruses can range from mild to severe. These infections result in an infectious rash. The most common viral skin infections can include:

Herpes Simplex virus-1 (HSV-1): This type of herpes virus is extremely common and causes sores in those infected. It is mainly transmitted by mouth-to-mouth contact, affecting 3.7 billion people globally. There are several different types of herpes and HSV-2 is a similar herpes strain, transmitted through genital-to-genital contact, resulting in genital herpes. These herpes viruses can result in sores on the lips and a tingling, itching, or burning sensation around the mouth. These sores can appear periodically throughout a person's life. Zovirax and Valtrex can be used to limit symptoms. [3] 

an arm with chickenpox blisters

Varicella-zoster virus (VZV): The varicella virus is most often associated with chickenpox and shingles. The majority of children today have been vaccinated against this virus. The vaccine is 98 percent effective at preventing the infection. Chickenpox causes an itchy rash with small, fluid-filled blisters. This is highly contagious and spreads easily among children. Shingles stem from the same virus and occur in people 60 years of age and older. [1]

Molluscum contagiosum: This infection is caused by a poxvirus, resulting from contact with contaminated animals, people, or materials. Smallpox is one such virus that has since been largely eradicated. These viruses cause small, flesh-colored bumps on the skin, most commonly in children under ten years old. Treatment is typically unnecessary, but some bumps may need surgical removal. [4] 

Respiratory Tract Infections

Respiratory tract infections can affect people of all ages. These viruses target the lungs, nose, and throat and are spread through the inhalation of droplets. These droplets are spread through talking, sneezing, coughing, and coming into close contact with an infected person. Common viral respiratory infections include:

Seasonal influenza: Seasonal flu affects 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population every year. Most people get over the flu with no problems, but over 200,000 people are hospitalized each year with influenza. Flu symptoms are more severe than the common cold and include severe fatigue and body aches. [1] 

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV): This viral infection affects both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. This most commonly results in pneumonia and bronchiolitis. Pneumonia involves an inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs, resulting in difficulty breathing. Bronchiolitis is a common lung infection that occurs in young children and babies. Bronchiolitis is characterized by an inflammation of the small airways that branch off from the windpipe (bronchioles). [1]

Other Types of Virus

While many viruses are transmitted through contact with an infected person,  you may also get viruses from food or animals. Other types of viruses include:

West Nile virus (WNV): This virus is typically transferred through infected mosquitoes. Over 70 percent of those with WNV present no symptoms, but others may develop a fever and headache. There is no specific treatment for this virus, and supportive treatments may be given if necessary.

Hepatitis A: This virus targets the liver and causes several unpleasant symptoms. Hepatitis A is highly contagious and can be transmitted from infected persons or contaminated food or water. It infects liver cells and causes inflammation, resulting in joint pain, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and loss of appetite.

Norovirus: This severe form of food poisoning is a gastrointestinal illness that commonly occurs on cruise ships. Over 20 million Americans experience this highly contagious virus every year. It causes vomiting and diarrhea, which may require hospitalization if a person becomes severely dehydrated. [1]

a buffet

General Treatments

Every virus has a different incubation time and contagious period. If you suspect you are coming down with a virus, it is essential to wash your hands regularly and cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing. If you must be around others, you should wear a mask to prevent transmitting it to others. Unless you are experiencing a severe virus, rest and consuming lots of fluids should allow the body to fight the virus independently.

There are many medications available for herpes viruses, but they do not cure the illnesses. Medications like Zovirax (Acyclovir) or Valtrex (Valacyclovir) slow the growth and spread of the herpes virus and help the body fight off the pathogen. Both of these drugs are most commonly used for genital herpes, cold sores, and shingles. Zovirax is an antiretroviral drug that does not cure infections but decreases the severity and length of viral outbreaks. Talk to your doctor to determine the right form of treatment for your viral infection. [5]

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.