Some human diseases are apparently caused by the body's response to virus infection: immune reaction to altered virus-infected cells, release by infected cells of inflammatory substances, or circulation in the body of virus-antibody complexes are all virus-caused immunological disorders. Viruses cause many diseases of economically important animals and plants, some transmitted by carriers such as insects. A retrovirus (HIV) causes AIDS, several viruses (e.g. Epstein-Barr virus, human papillomavirus) cause particular forms of cancer in humans, and many have been shown to cause tumors in animals. Other viruses that infect humans cause measles, mumps, smallpox, yellow fever, rabies, poliomyelitis, influenza, and the common cold.
The techniques of molecular biology and genetic engineering have made possible the development of antiviral drugs effective against a variety of viral infections. Viruses, like bacterial infective agents, act as antigens in the body and elicit the formation of antibodies in an infected individual (see immunity). Indeed, vaccines against viral diseases such as smallpox were developed before the causative agents were known. Some viruses stimulate cellular production of interferon, which inhibits viral growth within the infected cell.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.