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Acute Viral Infections: Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:00 What Is a Virus?
  • 0:58 Acute Viral Infections
  • 1:34 Influenza
  • 3:11 Yellow Fever
  • 4:21 Ebola
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll explain what acute viral infections are and look at three examples. For each example, we'll explore the symptoms patients experience and the treatment they need to destroy the virus.

What Is a Virus?

Like a battlefield with masses of living soldiers fighting for their freedom, your body is filled with living cells. Your cells have many different jobs, but the job of cells in the immune system is to fight off pathogens, like bacteria and viruses. Bacteria are like enemy soldiers, harmful cells entering your country.

However, like some militia groups use bombs, which are non-living but designed to do harm, viruses can also invade your body. Viruses are non-living infectious particles. They can't reproduce without a host and need a warm, living body to continue making more of themselves. There are two types of viral infections: chronic, or long lasting infections, and acute infections, which are the topic of this lesson.

Acute Viral Infections

Acute viral infections are viral infections that occur suddenly and either resolve quickly or result in death. In contrast, a chronic infection, like HIV, lasts for a person's entire life. Don't be fooled by the fact that the acute infections start quickly; many acute viral infections are life threatening, and some end in a quick death instead of resolving. Today, we'll look at three examples of acute viral infections: influenza, yellow fever, and Ebola.

Influenza

Out of all our examples, you are probably most familiar with influenza, or the flu. The average incubation period, or how long it takes from being infected to feeling symptoms, is one to four days. For most people, after two days they start to feel achy and have a sore throat. A fever is also present. Soon, their nose might run with mucus, a sign of the body trying to expel the virus. Headaches, extreme tiredness, and a light cough also persist during this illness.

Luckily, for most people the flu resolves on its own in one to two weeks. Doctors prescribe rest and fluids. Patients also take over-the-counter medications, like Tylenol for pain, or cough syrup, to relieve symptoms. Although this does not speed up the process of recovery, it does make life more manageable. Unfortunately, the trend of taking large doses of vitamin C to prevent or recover from the flu are not supported by science. The extra vitamin C is not needed by the body and is released in the urine.

Some patients, however, like the elderly, children, and pregnant women, are at risk of serious complications from the flu. If the flu persists or symptoms continue to get worse, doctors might provide antiviral medications, which specifically kill off viruses. These medications are saved for the worst cases however, since viruses quickly change to avoid the medication after several rounds of replication.

Yellow Fever

Yellow fever is a tropical disease caused by infected mosquitoes. When the mosquitoes bite humans, the virus is transferred to their blood stream. Although most cases resolve, in some patients the disease can be quite serious.

Shortly after the incubation period, these patients experience extreme headaches, fever, chills, vomiting, pain, and weakness. The infection may feel resolved, but within hours to days, severe symptoms set in. Liver failure causes a condition called jaundice, which turns the skin and eyes yellow, hence the name yellow fever. The body shortly goes into shock, and the patient can die from organ failure.

No antivirals work on yellow fever, so doctors mainly try to control symptoms while the immune system fights it off. Fluids are given, and any lost blood can be replaced with a blood transfusion. If the kidneys start to fail, dialysis can be used to filter the blood until they heal. Avoiding further mosquito bites is also important to stop transmission of the disease and to avoid reinfection.

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