Introduction to viruses
Fri, 2020-Mar-27 01:28 UTC
Length - 4:10
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The featured article for Friday, 27 March 2020 is Introduction to viruses.
A virus is a tiny infectious agent that reproduces inside the cells of living hosts. When infected, the host cell is forced to rapidly produce thousands of identical copies of the original virus. Unlike most living things, viruses do not have cells that divide; new viruses assemble in the infected host cell. But unlike simpler infectious agents like prions, they contain genes, which allow them to mutate and evolve. Over 4,800 species of viruses have been discovered. Their origin is unclear: some may have evolved from plasmids—pieces of DNA that can move between cells—while others may have evolved from bacteria. A virus consists of two or three parts: genes, made from either DNA or RNA, long molecules that carry genetic information; a protein coat that protects the genes; and in some viruses, an envelope of fat that surrounds the protein coat (which makes them vulnerable to soap) and is used, in combination with specific receptors, to enter a new host cell. Viruses vary in shape from the simple helical and icosahedral to more complex structures. Viruses range in size from 20 to 300 nanometres; it would take 33,000 to 500,000 of them, side by side, to stretch to 1 centimetre (0.4 in).
Viruses spread in many ways. Just as many are very specific as to which host species or tissue they attack, each species of virus relies on a particular method for propagation. Plant viruses are often spread from plant to plant by insects and other organisms, known as vectors. Some viruses of humans and other animals are spread by exposure to infected bodily fluids. Viruses such as influenza are spread through the air by droplets of moisture when people cough or sneeze. Viruses such as norovirus are transmitted by the faecal–oral route, which involves the contamination of hands, food and water. Rotavirus is often spread by direct contact with infected children. The human immunodeficiency virus, HIV, is transmitted by bodily fluids transferred during sex. Others, such as the dengue virus, are spread by blood-sucking insects.
Viruses, particularly those that have RNA, can mutate rapidly and give rise to new types against which their hosts have little protection. Influenza virus, for example, changes often, which is why a new vaccine is needed each year. Major changes can cause pandemics as in 2009 when swine influenza spread to most countries. Often these mutations take place when the virus has infected other animals such as bats in the case of coronavirus, and pigs and birds in influenza, before spreading to humans.
Viral infections can cause disease in humans, animals and plants. In humans and animals they are usually eliminated by the immune system, conferring lifetime immunity to the host for that virus. Antibiotics have no effect, but antiviral drugs can treat life-threatening infections. Vaccines that produce lifelong immunity can prevent some infections.
This recording reflects the Wikipedia text as of 01:28 UTC on Friday, 27 March 2020.
For the full current version of the article, see Introduction to viruses on Wikipedia.
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