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To the average person, viruses may seem confusing and overwhelming. Unless you've studied medicine or virology, it's hard to explain the technical differences between a common cold and the flu, much less hantavirus and encephalitis. However, understanding the relationships between viruses can help us remember their symptoms, as well as how they're transmitted. This allows us to better prepare for everything from mundane sickness to major viral outbreaks.
We'll introduce this concept with some approachable examples. Chickenpox and shingles are both forms of herpesvirus, specifically the sub-category varicella zoster virus (VZV). VZV is highly contagious among humans, but it can be prevented through vaccination.
Zika, west nile, dengue, and yellow fever are all forms of the flavi virus. All of these are considered arboviruses, meaning they are transmitted via insects, specifically Aedes mosquitoes. Flavi viruses also tend to cause moderate to severe fever — so, if you were bitten by a mosquito and are experiencing this symptom, you should know to seek medical attention. You don't need to comprehend the genetic structure of viruses to understand these relationships.
The graphic above was created by Mikael Haggstrom for the WikiJournal of Medicine and shows the body parts affected by some of the most notable viruses. For an in-depth look at the families of dangerous viruses, check out the infographic below from Eleanor Lutz of Nerdcore Medical. Note the arbovirus insect symbol, as it shows which viruses can be transmitted by mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. The syringe symbol indicates viruses which can be prevented through early vaccination.
For a much larger full-size version of this infographic, click here.
Even with all the information above, there's a whole host of other diseases caused by bacteria instead of viruses. For more information on the difference between a virus and a bacterial infection, go to the CDC page “Viruses or Bacteria – What's got you sick?”