What Are the Symptoms of a Virus?

By Deborah Dera

Viral infections are caused by tiny organisms that enter the body and attack cells. These organisms are smaller than any other type in the body, including parasites, bacteria and fungi. When a viral infection enters the body it can cause cells to die, change or mutate and must be expelled to restore health.

Common Viral Symptoms

The most common viral symptoms are those that affect the upper respiratory system. These usually occur when the virus causes cells in your body to die, leading to illnesses such as the common cold, sinusitis, the flu, bronchitis or pneumonia. Common symptoms include chest and nasal congestion, sore throat and difficulty breathing. As these types of viral infections tend to have a relatively short life span they can usually be fought off by the immune system.

Symptoms Affecting the Nervous System

Some viruses, such as those that cause rabies, meningitis, encephalitis and complications related to West Nile fever, can have a significant impact on the nervous system. Symptoms of this type of viral infection include fever, severe headaches, stiff neck, confusion, and sometimes even strokes or seizures. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you have this type of viral infection because it could be deadly if left untreated.

Symptoms Affecting the Skin

There are a number of viral infections that can have a negative impact on the cells that make up your skin, including those that cause warts, measles, rubella, mumps and smallpox. These viruses can have a number of distinct symptoms, the most notable of which are rashes or bumps on skin. With the measles, for example, you'll likely develop a rash that starts at the top of your body and works its way down. The rash caused by smallpox, on the other hand, usually appears on the arms, legs and face. It begins as a flat red rash before filling with puss and crusting into scabs. Other symptoms of these types of viruses include fatigue, headaches, fever, backaches, runny noses, coughs, pink eye, diarrhea, ear infections and joint pain.

Symptoms of Lifelong Viruses

Finally, there are viruses that lie dormant in your cells for the remainder of your life. Fortunately, they will not cause you to feel ill unless you suffer a major physical or emotional setback that activates them. These viruses include hepatitis, herpes simplex, chickenpox (or shingles in adults) and mononucleosis (or Epstein-Barr virus). Symptoms include fever, itching, jaundice, fatigue, changes in the color of your urine or stool, cold sores, tingling sensations, increased sensitivity throughout the body and rashes. Some viruses, such as mononucleosis or Epstein-Barr, only show up as a result of such conditions as chronic fatigue.

Fighting Viral Infections

While some of these viruses require immediate medical attention, others, such as the common cold or a gastrointestinal complication, can usually be treated at home. Remember that in many cases it is not the virus itself causing your symptoms but your immune system's reaction as it attempts to fight the virus. Help your immune system by making sure you get lots of rest, staying hydrated and eating nutritious foods. Never take antibiotics to treat a virus because they don't work on them and may cause unrelated side effects.

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