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An invisible organism enters your body. It penetrates into your tissues and then takes over the machinery in your own cells to make more copies of itself. This tiny infiltrator works silently, producing thousands of these clones that fill up the cell and cause it to explode. The clones mercilessly continue the process of invading, taking over and destroying cells. The result might be a minor inconvenience to you as the host, or it could result in a slow or rapid death. It depends only on which variant of this unwanted infiltrator overcomes your body’s defenses. There are cures to wipe out some types of these invisible intruders, but others are so difficult to eradicate or so readily adaptable, that the world’s greatest scientists have failed to defeat them. This isn’t the beginning of a medical thriller; it is simply a description of the common viruses that surround and infect us every day.

From the common cold to cancers, viruses plague humans with disease and misery. Some of them, such as influenza, adapt and evolve as quickly as defenses are built against them. Some get into cells and start replication immediately. Others lie dormant like opportunistic predators until conditions are ripe for them to propagate. The herpes viruses can do this over and over again. They hide in nerve tissue until prompted to erupt leaving painful ulcers as host tissue is destroyed. Human papilloma virus—HPV--causes genital warts and predisposes its victims to cervical cancer. Likewise, hepatitis viruses, especially hepatitis C can leave a patient vulnerable to liver cancer. Other cancers in humans are also known to be caused by viruses. It is tempting to assign human traits to viruses thinking of them as contriving and evil. But, they...

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... enter your body. Some vaccines, such as those for polio, measles and smallpox have been highly effective in removing the causative pathogens from the population. Others viruses including HIV, influenza and those that cause the common cold, are able to change enough to evade recognition by the responding antibodies as to render current vaccines useless.

Anti-viral drugs search for and destroy viruses by recognizing unique components of the capsid or envelope. The herpes viruses can be somewhat controlled, but not eliminated in this manner. Infections are shorter, but the virus still lies in wait in the nerve cells to re-emerge on another day. HIV drug regimens have lengthened the life expectancy of patients infected with the human immunodeficiency virus by suppressing multiplication inside the host.

Viruses prove that truth is stranger than (science) fiction.
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