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How Viruses Multiply

How Viruses Reproduce


Knowledge is power, and understanding the chain of events that results in a virus outbreak is one of the most powerful weapons to deal with cold sore outbreaks, herpes outbreaks, shingles outbreaks, flu outbreaks – in fact this applies to almost all manifestations of virus outbreaks.

Viruses Are Always With Us… But

Viruses, like bacteria and other microbes are a normal part of the human microbiome (the flora and fauna that inhabit our bodies every day), but if these viruses start to reproduce in high numbers, they can manifest in a wide range of unhealthy conditions.  Some are just annoying, but can disrupt our daily lives, our family time, and our ability to work.  Others can cause truly serious, or even deadly results, like the Ebola virus, or HIV.  And in the middle, there are viruses that can result in serious, dangerous and life-disrupting conditions – like cold sore outbreaks and herpes outbreaks, outbreaks of the shingles virus, or the flu, which can be truly dangerous for the elderly or those who have a compromised immune system.

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Virus Reproduction Is The Key

As we’ve said before, viruses cannot reproduce by themselves.  For a virus to be able to reproduce, it has to run through what is known as the ‘virus life cycle’.  Let’s look at what this virus life cycle is like, how it works, and how it leads to virus outbreaks.


Viruses do not reproduce through cell division, because they are ‘acellular’.

Instead, they use the components, mechanisms and metabolic processes of a host cell to produce multiple copies of themselves, and they assemble inside the host cell before the newly formed virus particles are released into the system, each one finding the next host cell to attach to and they repeat this reproduction cycle over and over.  This leads to a high number of virus particles in the system, which is referred to as ‘viral load’.

The exact life cycle of viruses differs between species, but science agrees that there are six basic stages in the life cycle of viruses.


‘Attachment’ is the first stage in the viral life cycle following introduction of the virus into the body. It refers to the binding (or attachment) between the proteins that line or surround the virus capsid (the outer envelope or membrane of the virus) and specific receptors on the cellular surface of the targeted host cell.

If attachment – also called ‘VIRUS FUSION’, or ‘VIRUS ATTACHMENT’ – does not or cannot occur successfully, the virus life cycle is cut short, and the immune system nay be able act to identify and eliminate the attacking virus particle before it has had a chance to penetrate the host cell wall and insert its virus DNA or RNA.

How specific the match must be between the proteins coating the virus and the receptor sites on the surface of the target host cell for attachment to occur, determines the host range of the virus.  For example, HIV infects a limited range of human leucocytes.  This is because its surface protein, called ‘GP120’, specifically interacts with only the CD4 molecule – a specialized receptor – which is most commonly found on the surface of specific T-Cells.

This mechanism has evolved to favor those viruses that infect only cells within which they are capable of replicating. Thus, specific viruses attach only to specific types of host cells.

Attachment to the host cell can result in the fusion of virus and cellular membranes, or changes in the virus surface proteins that allow the virus to enter or penetrate the host cell and begin to replicate or reproduce.


Following successful attachment to a host cell, the next stage in the virus life cycle is called ‘Penetration’.  Viruses enter the host cell through ‘receptor-mediated endocytosis’ (breaching the host cell wall) or membrane fusion.  This is often called ‘virus entry’.  Viruses penetrate their host cells through spike-like extensions on the outside envelope of the virus which can puncture the host cell membrane once the virus has successfully attached to its target human host cell.

Penetration has one singular objective: to insert the virus DNA or RNA inside the host cell, where it can start the process of replication, creating new virus particles.

Remember that Penetration cannot occur until Attachment (or Virus Fusion) has been achieved.

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Following successful Virus Fusion (Attachment) and having penetrated the host cell wall and inserting its virus DNA or RNA into the host cell, the next stage in the virus life cycle is called ‘Uncoating’.

Uncoating is a process in which the virus capsid is removed.  This may be accomplished by degrading the virus envelope with virus enzymes or host cell enzymes, or by simple dissociation of the virus membrane or capsule.

The end result, or objective, of Uncoating is the releasing of the virus genomic nucleic acid (the virus’s DNA or RNA), which starts the process of virus replication and reproduction.


‘Replication’ of viruses is exactly what it sounds like: multiplication of the genome – the virus’s DNA or RNA, which are instructions for replicating new virus particles.  Replication involves synthesis of the virus messenger RNA (mRNA), virus protein synthesis, possible assembly of virus proteins, then virus genome replication.

In essence, Replication comprises the first steps in creating new virus particles and preparing them to be ‘Assembled’ into fully functional viruses, capable of attaching to new host cells and starting the cycle over, and so on.


Following the successful replication of the viral genetic structure and the reproduction of the chemicals necessary to create a virus envelope to contain the genetic material of the newly created viruses, self-assembly (‘Virus Assembly’) of the virus particles is then completed, forming a whole new virus particle (think of these as ‘baby viruses’).

This process is sometimes referred to as ‘Maturation’ and is the last step in the virus replication process, prior to the newly formed viruses being released into the system where they start the entire life cycle again, commencing with Attachment to a new host cell.


Once newly formed and completed virus particles are fully replicated inside the host cell, they are ready to enter the body’s system and are ‘Released’ to start the virus life cycle process all over again with Attachment to a new, uninfected host cell.

Viruses can be released from the host cell by ‘lysis’, a process that kills the host cell by bursting its membrane and cell wall if present: this is a feature of many viruses.

Some viruses, which in their completed state have a more substantial envelope coating the virus, may be released from the host cell through a process known as ‘Budding’.

During this process the virus acquires its envelope, which is a modified piece of the host’s plasma or other internal membrane or component of the host cell in which the virus has replicated itself.

It is important to note that virus replication (completion of the entire life cycle) can happen very quickly, and result in the rapid proliferation of new virus particles; in many cases literally millions or tens of millions of newly formed virus particles are created and released into the system.  Thus, the potential for infection (Attachment) of new host cells is quite substantial.

If the life cycle process is interrupted or interfered with, so that the viruses cannot initially attach to a target host cell or cannot successfully complete their replication inside the host cell, or are prevented from being assembled or released, the virus life cycle may be cut short or stopped.

Research into all possible approaches to interfere with or impede the virus life cycle are actively being pursued, including drugs which can interfere with virus genetic replication, attempts to create vaccines which may prevent Virus Fusion, and the use of supplements to inhibit Virus Fusion are all key objectives of viral medicine and research.  Unfortunately, the development and approval process for new vaccines is a very complex and lengthy process that can take many years or decades.

There are many opportunities to reduce the likelihood of successful virus life cycle completion, starting with inhibiting the initial Virus Fusion – or Attachment to a host cell – to preventing completion of virus replication.

Given that many viruses remain in the body forever, approaches that assist in keeping viruses dormant are also being developed, and may be assisted by various dietary, physical or life-style changes, and by using specific scientifically tested supplements that have been shown to have a damping or regulating effect on some stage of the virus life cycle.

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