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How Do I Prevent a Viral Infection?

Article Details
  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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There are three main ways to prevent a viral infection. The most basic approach is to prevent a virus from having an opportunity to infect the body by means of good sanitation and other safety precautions. Boosting the immune system through both natural means and vaccination makes it easier for the body to stop a viral infection from taking root. Some medication can also be taken as prophylactics to make it more difficult for infections to become established.

Viruses use a variety of different methods to travel from one host to another. Some, such as the virus responsible for AIDS, are actually very fragile and easy to prevent. Others, such as the rhinoviruses responsible for many examples of the common cold, are extremely hardy and easy to transmit.

The hardiest viruses can survive outside of a living host for hours or longer and can be spread by coughing, sneezing, and contact with surfaces. Others, such as the herpes virus, survive poorly outside of the body but can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The most fragile viruses, such as the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), can survive only within the body and can spread to new hosts only through breaks in the skin, such as cuts or porous mucus membranes.

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Good personal hygiene can often prevent a viral infection. Frequent hand washing and the use of sanitizers can kill or remove viruses from the skin, and hands should generally be cleaned before touching the face when exposure to viruses is suspected. Cleaning surfaces that are touched frequently, such as door knobs and keyboards, can also minimize the risk of virus transmission. Some viruses spread through insect vectors, and insect repellents and mosquito netting can prevent infection with them.

Avoiding those who are sick is an excellent way to prevent a viral infection. Anyone with a weak immune system should avoid contact with people who may be infected with influenza or similar serious viruses. Sick children and employees should be kept home, if possible, to minimize the risk to others.

A strong and healthy immune system can often stop an infection. Proper nutrition, sleep, and low stress levels aid in boosting the efficacy of the immune system. Vaccination also works by boosting the immune system. A vaccine exposes the body to a dose of harmless dead viruses, allowing the immune system to learn how to build antibodies that prevent infection by the living version of a virus.

In certain cases, medications can be used to ward off a viral infection. This approach is used rarely, as it runs the risk of creating drug-resistant viruses. Patients with weak immune systems, such as the elderly, may be given anti-viral drugs as a precautionary measure during flu season. Similarly, anyone who has been exposed to HIV will likely be offered a course of anti-viral medicine designed to minimize the chances of that virus successfully establishing itself in the body.

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