The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

The National Academies

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

An electron micrograph of an influenza virus, showing details of its structure.

Credit: Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC

Viruses

Viruses are tiny, ranging in size from about 20 to 400 nanometers in diameter. Billions can fit on the head of a pin. Some are rod shaped; others are round and 20 sided; and yet others have fanciful forms, with multisided “heads” and cylindrical “tails.”
Viruses are responsible for a wide range of diseases, including the common cold, measles, chicken pox, genital herpes, and influenza.
Viruses are simply packets of nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA, surrounded by a protein shell and sometimes fatty materials called lipids. Outside a living cell, a virus is a dormant particle, lacking the raw materials for reproduction. Only when it enters a host cell does it go into action, hijacking the cell’s metabolic machinery to produce copies of itself that may burst out of infected cells or simply bud off a cell membrane. This lack of self-sufficiency means that viruses cannot be cultured in artificial media for scientific research or vaccine development; they can only be grown in living cells, fertilized eggs, tissue cultures, or bacteria.
 
Viruses are responsible for a wide range of diseases, including the common cold, measles, chicken pox, genital herpes, and influenza. Many of the emerging infectious diseases, such as AIDS and SARS, are caused by viruses.
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What do you know about infectious disease?

The 1918 influenza pandemic (the so-called “Spanish” flu) is estimated to have killed how many people worldwide?

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide. Many of those deaths were due to the effects of pneumococcal pneumonia, a secondary complication of flu for which no antibiotics existed in 1918.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide. Many of those deaths were due to the effects of pneumococcal pneumonia, a secondary complication of flu for which no antibiotics existed in 1918.

  • Correct!

    The 1918 influenza pandemic is estimated to have killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide. Many of those deaths were due to the effects of pneumococcal pneumonia, a secondary complication of flu for which no antibiotics existed in 1918.

Infectious Disease Defined

Antibiotic Resistance

The process through which pathogenic microorganisms, by way of genetic mutation, develop the ability to withstand exposure to the drugs used to eradicate them.

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National Academies Press

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