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Name: Immanuel
Status: Educator
Grade:  9-12
Location: MA
Country: United States
Date: January 2007

What is the treatment for viral infection, since antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses?

Until recently, there were no other treatments for viral infection but simply letting your own immune system do its job. Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites, which means that they can't function outside a living cell. Viruses are basically just a piece of nucleic acid (either DNA or RNA) wrapped in protein. Their only "purpose" is to get inside a cell, make more of itself and get to another cell. They don't have any genes for metabolism and they aren't cellular. Antibiotics are substances made by one living thing against another living thing.

For example, penicillin attacks a certain chemical in the cell walls of bacteria. Since viruses don't have cell walls, penicillin would not be effective against them. There are some new drugs being tried against viruses however. In order for a virus to be able to attack one of your cells, it has to be able to "dock" on the surface of the cell first to gain entry. Many of the new drugs are specifically designed to "lock the doors" to the cell by blocking the surface receptors that viruses need for entry. One of the consequences of the Human Genome Project has been what is called "rational drug design", where drug companies can use known genetic sequences of viruses, etc. to design ways to knock out a function.


There are about 15 antiviral drugs most of which are for AIDS therapy. There are also a couple for treating Herpes virus infection, but for most viral infections there is no therapy. Do a search on Wikipedia for antiviral drugs and you will find a list of them.

Ron Baker, Ph.D.

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