Many viral infections can be prevented by vaccination. Several classes of vaccines are currently in use in humans and animals. Inactivated vaccines, such as the poliovirus vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, are produced from virulent viruses that are subjected to chemical treatments that result in loss of infectivity without complete loss of antigenicity (antigenicity is the ability to produce immunity). Another approach is the use of weakened variants of a virus with reduced pathogenicity to induce a protective immune response without disease. While vaccines are usually given before exposure to a virus, postexposure vaccines can cure some virus infections with extended incubation periods, such as rabies.
Vaccines against smallpox eradicated the illness in 1980. It is believed that it may also be possible to eliminate polio. A recombinant vaccine against hepatitis B virus is now produced in yeast. However, developing effective vaccines to some viruses, including the common cold viruses, HIV-1, herpesviruses, and HPV, is proving very difficult principally due to the existence of many variants. Public health measures, such as mosquito control programs to curb the spread of viral diseases transmitted by these vectors, and safe-sex campaigns to slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, can also be effective. Because viruses replicate in cells, drugs that target viruses typically also affect cell functions. These therapeutic agents must be active against the virus while having "acceptable toxicity" to the host organism. The majority of the specific antiviral drugs currently in use target viral enzymes. For example, nucleoside analogues that target viral polymerases are active against HIV and certain herpesviruses.
Robert F. Garry
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