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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Disease Watchlist

What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: Antibiotics work by introducing an agent that resembles a disease-causing microbe, thus stimulating the body's immune system to recognize it as foreign, destroy it, and "remember" it, so that it can more easily identify and destroy any similar, disease-causing microbes that it later encounters.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    The above describes how vaccines work. Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or stopping them from reproducing, allowing the body's natural defenses to eliminate the pathogens.

  • Correct!

    The above describes how vaccines work. Antibiotics work by either killing bacteria or stopping them from reproducing, allowing the body's natural defenses to eliminate the pathogens.

Infectious Disease Defined

Trachea

The main trunk of the network of tubes that carries air to and from the lungs, sometimes referred to as the “windpipe.”

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National Academies Press

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