Viruses cause a broad array of human diseases. These microscopic particles spread easily, typically via person-to-person contact or touching contaminated surfaces. Once inside the body, viruses enter cells and reproduce quickly. Viral infections cause a host of different diseases, some mild and others potentially fatal. Unfortunately, effective antiviral medications exist for only a few of the many human viral diseases. In many cases, treatment for a viral illness involves relieving symptoms until the body's immune system clears the infection.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
A variety of viruses cause different types of respiratory infections. Rhinovirus, coronavirus and adenovirus are the leading causes of the common cold. Influenza viruses infect the upper respiratory system and sometimes spreads to the lungs causing pneumonia. Another virus called the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) causes a respiratory infection called bronchiolitis in infants and toddlers. The symptoms of bronchiolitis include dry cough, rapid breathing and wheezing, a high-pitched sound sick children make when exhaling.
- A variety of viruses cause different types of respiratory infections.
- Influenza viruses infect the upper respiratory system and sometimes spreads to the lungs causing pneumonia.
Digestive System Infections
Common Viruses in Children
Several types of viruses cause viral gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu. This common illness, characterized by diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, is caused by many different viruses, but not the influenza virus.cause:
- This common illness
- characterized by diarrhea
- is caused by many different viruses
- but not the influenza virus
According to a June 2012 "American Family Physician" article, viruses cause 75 to 90 percent of acute gastrointestinal disease in children 2.
Central Nervous System Infections
Several viruses can infect the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. For example, enteroviruses and herpes viruses can cause meningitis and encephalitis.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain tissue itself. The symptoms of these central nervous system infections overlap and can include fever, headache, neck stiffness and light sensitivity. Mental status changes are common, including confusion, mood instability, extreme lack of energy and possibly coma. Seizures occur in some people with meningitis or encephalitis.
- Several viruses can infect the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord.
Common Human Viruses List
Viruses cause a wide array of skin infections. Herpes simplex viruses (HSV) cause some of the most common skin infections. HSV type 1 tends to cause vesicles in the mouth and on the lips, commonly known as cold sores or fever blisters. HSV type-2 tends to cause genital herpes. According to the Cleveland Clinic, 85 percent of the population has blood test evidence of exposure to HSV-1, even if they never had symptoms. The varicella virus causes chickenpox, an illness characterized by itchy fluid-filled bumps on the skin that eventually rupture and scab over. The varicella virus also causes shingles, which is a reactivation of the virus years after the initial bout of chickenpox.
Another group of viruses, the human papillomaviruses (HPV), cause warts. Warts are a very common skin infection and can affect any skin surface. The feet, hands and face are frequently affected by common warts or plantar wart. Genital warts are the most common sexually transmitted infection. Among women, genital warts caused by certain types of HPV can predispose to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine protects against these cancer-causing types of HPV.
- Viruses cause a wide array of skin infections.
- The varicella virus also causes shingles, which is a reactivation of the virus years after the initial bout of chickenpox.
Many Other Diseases
There are obviously many other human diseases caused by viruses. Indeed, many professional medical books are devoted exclusively to this topic. A few notable examples that have garnered the attention of the public health community and the population at large include: -- Zika: a virus spread primarily by mosquitoes that can cause birth defects -- MERS-CoV: the virus responsible for Middle East respiratory syndrome, a potentially deadly respiratory infection -- Ebola: virus spread through contact with infected body fluids that can causes an often fatal illness called Ebola hemorrhagic fever -- HIV: virus responsible for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) -- Hepatitis C: virus that typically establishes long-term infection of the liver, and is the leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer in the U.S 7.
Reviewed and revised by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- There are obviously many other human diseases caused by viruses.
- Indeed, many professional medical books are devoted exclusively to this topic.
Common Viruses in Children
Common Human Viruses List
Causes of a High Fever and Runny Nose
What Causes Itchy Skin in Children?
Types of Human Viruses
Symptoms of Type A Influenza
Influenza Virus Characteristics
Side Effects of Measles
Causes of Seizures in Babies
Symptoms of Human Herpesvirus 6
- The Neurohospitalist: Emerging and Reemerging Neurologic Infections
- American Family Physician: Gastroenteritis in Children, Part 1 -- Diagnosis
- Cleveland Clinic Center for Continuing Education: Common Skin Infections
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Norovirus Clinical Overview
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Genital HPV Infection -- Fact Sheet
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Zika Virus for Healthcare Providers
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease)
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Viral infections. Updated March 12, 2020.
- American Lung Association. Facts about the common cold. Updated July 9, 2019.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: Protect yourself and others.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (flu). Burden of influenza. Updated January 10, 2020.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently asked influenza (flu) questions: 2019-2020 season. Updated January 17, 2020.
- Kinkade, S, et al. Acute bronchitis. Am Fam Physician. 2016;94(7):560-565.
- Ejemot-nwadiaro RI, Ehiri JE, Arikpo D, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing promotion for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(9):CD004265. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004265.pub3
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Ear infections in children. Updated May 12, 2017.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ear infection. Updated August 27, 2019.
- Bjornson CL, Johnson DW. Croup in children. CMAJ. 2013;185(15):1317–1323. doi:10.1503/cmaj.121645
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) symptoms and care. Updateed June 26, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV transmission. Updated June 26, 2018.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV prevention. Updated June 26, 2018.
Ruben J. Nazario has been a medical writer and editor since 2007. His work has appeared in national print and online publications. Nazario is a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and is board-certified in pediatrics. He also has a Master of Arts in liberal studies from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.