An antiviral is a substance that fights against viruses and inhibits their growth. A doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help treat a viral infection, and people can use antiviral products to prevent the growth and spread of viruses.
Any substance that slows the replication of viruses is an antiviral. Viruses are microscopic organisms that can infect animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria. Researchers suggest that viruses are the most abundant biological entity on the planet. The structure of viruses means that only antivirals can eliminate them — other medications, including antibiotics, are not effective.
This article looks at the difference between antiviral, antimicrobial, antibacterial, and antifungal substances. It also explores the effectiveness of antiviral drugs, masks, cleaning products, and herbs.
For example, antiviral substances fight against viruses and are not effective against bacteria or fungi. Conversely, antibiotics and antifungals will have no effect on viruses. Antivirals work to prevent viral infection, replication, and growth.
Most antivirals target a specific virus, but some broad-spectrum antivirals are available that work against multiple viruses.
Antiviral drugs do not directly destroy the virus but work by preventing the infection process. As viruses need to infect and replicate in host cells to survive, preventing this process allows antiviral medications to combat viruses. An antiviral drug can do this in several ways:
- Blocking infection: Viruses cannot replicate without a host cell. Some antiviral drugs work by tricking the virus into attaching to them rather than a human cell. Without a human cell, the virus cannot replicate, so it dies.
- Interrupting replication: Once a virus enters a host cell, it begins to replicate. Some antiviral drugs disrupt the replication process within the cell, reducing the severity of symptoms and possibly speeding recovery.
- Preventing spread: After replication, the virus particles enter the bloodstream. Some antiviral drugs work by preventing the release of these viral copies into the bloodstream, which reduces the spread of the infection.
Examples of antiviral drugs include oseltamivir (Tamiflu), which tackles influenza, and acyclovir (Zovirax), which treats herpes and chickenpox.
In addition to prescribing antiviral medications, doctors may recommend vaccinations. These differ from antivirals but are another
Wearing face coverings has been critical in preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the severity of COVID-19. However, the effectiveness of different types of face coverings can vary greatly. Some may feature an antiviral coating to make them more effective.
Another 2021 study notes that infusing masks with quaternary ammonium salts can also help protect against viral contamination by inactivating viruses. Research highlights the antiviral properties of quaternary ammonium compounds against a broad spectrum of viruses.
Several commercial cleaning products may kill harmful viruses. These products can contain various active ingredients and will usually advertise their effectiveness against viruses. Two active ingredients that household cleaning products
These two chemicals are oxidizing agents and are capable of inactivating viruses. They do so by destroying the protein coating that protects the viral genetic material. This means that the virus can no longer reproduce.
Several common herbs may also have antiviral properties. Their concentrated plant compounds may act to kill viruses or reduce the symptoms of the resulting diseases.
For example, oregano contains a key plant compound called carvacrol, which possesses antiviral properties that evidence suggests might be effective against SARS-CoV-2.
Rosemary may also have antiviral effects. A
Antiviral substances work to inhibit viral activity by preventing the virus from developing, replicating, and spreading. They fit under the antimicrobial umbrella but differ from antibacterial and antifungal products.
Antiviral substances include antiviral medications, which a doctor may prescribe to treat a viral infection. They also include masks and cleaning products, which may help prevent the spread of viruses, and some herbs, which have antiviral properties.