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What Is a Chronic Viral Infection?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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Viral infections usually fall into one of two categories: acute or chronic. An acute viral infection typically develops suddenly and lasts for a short period of time while a chronic viral infection tends to develop gradually and last for weeks, months, or even years. In some cases, a chronic viral infection causes symptoms a person will deal with for the duration of the illness but does not threaten the patient's life. In others, the chronic infection can prove deadly. Some examples of chronic viral infections include hepatitis C, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and herpes simplex type 2.

A chronic viral infection is caused by a virus and lasts for a relatively long period of time. In contrast to acute viral infections, a chronic infection usually lasts more than a couple of weeks, and the symptoms often develop gradually rather than appearing suddenly. The fact that an infection is chronic, however, does not always indicate whether it is serious or not. Some chronic infections may cause a person only minor symptoms and won't interfere much with his normal activities. Others may cause a person to feel very ill and could even prove fatal.

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One type of chronic viral infection is hepatitis C. This infection develops when a person is exposed to the hepatitis C virus through blood contact, shared needles, and sexual contact. It leads to serious liver damage and causes such symptoms as fatigue, upset stomach, and pain or tenderness in the liver. It may also affect one's appetite or cause fever. While there are treatments for this condition, it can prove fatal, depending on the extent of the damage to the patient's liver.

HIV is another virus that causes a chronic viral infection. Like hepatitis C, it is spread through blood contact, shared needles, and sexual contact. This virus causes a serious condition called acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), in which the immune system becomes so impaired that it cannot effectively fight even minor illnesses, such as common colds. As such, a person with this illness may develop frequent infections. Symptoms of this viral infection include fever, weight loss, diarrhea, and swollen lymph nodes. In some cases, it will also cause coughing and headaches.

There are treatments for HIV and AIDS that may slow the progress of the virus, prolong a person's life, and help his body fight infection. A person with this type of infection will usually need treatment for his entire life. If treatment is unsuccessful or a person fails to seek treatment, the disease may prove fatal.

Another chronic condition called herpes develops because of a virus called herpes simplex type 2. This sexually transmitted virus causes genital herpes, which is marked by a herpes sore that develops on an infected person's genitals on a reoccurring basis. There are treatments that may make the appearance of herpes sores less frequent or severe, but none that cure the disease completely.

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