Types of Viruses: Flu, Smallpox, Coronavirus & More

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The latest virus to threaten public health globally is the coronavirus (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China. Governments, global health organizations and the medical community have been working to raise awareness of the global outbreak and continue to warn individuals against traveling. As the death toll continues to rise, advanced practice nurses are working tirelessly to treat an increasing number of patients with COVID-19 and to assist scientists and researchers in learning more about the virus.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by the University of North Dakota’s Online Post-Master’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

How advanced practice nurses combat the spread of viral diseases.

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Types of Viruses and How They Work

Over many centuries and even millennia, infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles have claimed millions of lives. Advances in modern medicine have helped to stop the spread of many viral infections through mass vaccination, and some infections have been completely eradicated.

The Cost of Deadly Virus Infections

Viruses gain their infamy through a combination of large infection rates and death, even when their power has been relatively subdued. Rabies, measles and chickenpox are still notorious, even though vaccines and medications have drastically reduced their deadliness. Some viruses are either no longer a threat or not thought of as threatening: Smallpox has been eradicated, and there hasn’t been a polio case of American origin since 1979.

Other viruses are still active and pose a serious threat to an individual’s health. In addition to coronavirus (COVID-19), hepatitis, HIV and the flu still cause mass infection and noticeable death rates.

The Three Categories of Viruses

There are three different virus types that are made distinct by their shape. The cylindrical helical virus type is associated with the tobacco mosaic virus. Envelope viruses, such as influenza and HIV come covered in a protective lipid envelope. Most animal viruses are classified as icosahedral and are nearly spherical in shape.

The viruses within these categories share similar characteristics. They’re composed of RNA or DNA, and are coated with either a protein, lipid or glycoprotein. They’re also parasitic, meaning they can’t replicate without a host. Viruses are also the most abundant biological form of life on the planet. While they can’t be cured, a vaccination can prevent their spread.

Treatment and Prevention

When an individual is infected with a virus, the body’s immune system goes to war fighting off the intruder. Vaccines can help strengthen the body’s natural immune response and reduce the risk of death.

How a Virus Spreads

The first thing a virion does is enter a cell and becomes a virus. Then it inserts genetic material into the host and takes over the cell’s operations. Next, it reproduces, creating viral protein and genetic material instead of the usual cellular products. A virus can then spread through a wide variety of means, such as touching, coughing and sneezing.

How the Body Fights Viruses

The body fights viruses by breaking down the viral genetic material via RNA interference. The immune system then produces antibodies that bind to viruses to make them noninfectious. Lastly, T cells are sent to destroy the virus.

Treating Viruses

Antiviral drugs can treat viruses by inhibiting viral development and slowing down disease progression. These drugs help fight the flue, chickenpox and forms of hepatitis.

Vaccines create a herd immunity that helps prevent an outbreak. There are five different types of viruses: Conjugate vaccines, inactivated vaccines, live, attenuated vaccines, subunit vaccines and toxoid vaccines.

There are several ways people can slow the spread of a virus in lieu of drugs or vaccination. These include thorough and frequent hand washing, eating a fruit and vegetable-rich diet, using an alcohol-based sanitizer and getting enough sleep each night.

The Role of Advanced Practice Nurses Worldwide

Around the world, nurses contribute to the prevention, management and containment of viral outbreaks by caring for infected patients and educating the public on prevention strategies. Advanced practice nurses also fill a leadership role that involves working with government leaders and advocating for health care equality.

The Invaluable Contribution of Nurses

Across a variety of roles and specializations, nursing professionals fight viruses in numerous ways. Some of their methods are direct, such as preventing surgical infections. Others are legislative in nature, such as advocating for care equality by questioning imbalanced care delivery systems. Nurses also share their expertise with the public on a host of vital topics, such as care delivery models, infection prevention and the distribution of important resources.

Public health nurses were involved in managing the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. They did so by tracing contacts, educating the public regarding disease signs and symptoms and serving in research teams in related case control studies. Nursing researchers have also benefited HIV testing and prevention in Malawi via identifying the benefits of working with religious leaders to promote HIV testing and prevention behaviors. Additionally, nurses have developed family planning services in Kenya by providing childbearing families with the opportunity to space pregnancies to support the health of pregnant women. Finally, nurses have played a key role in West Africa’s Ebola outbreak by improving the protocols and levels of protection for health care workers.

Slowing the Spread

Advanced practice nurses are uniquely qualified to conduct research and assist government leaders and public health officials in creating an informed response to viral outbreaks. The input and insight of experienced nurses will help prevent the spread of infectious diseases and ensure a healthier future.