We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Is an RNA Virus?

By M. Glass
Updated Mar 03, 2024
Our promise to you
The Health Board is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At The Health Board, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Viruses are tiny cellular parasites. They consist simply of a small piece of genetic material, either ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), encapsulated by a protein coat. All viruses seek to invade the nucleus of compatible cells so that they can replicate themselves. The genetic material contained in the virus determines the mechanics of how the infected cell is forced to produce new viral cells. An RNA virus is classified based on the type of genetic material that it carries and how it directs the host cell to replicate.

A virus remains inactive until it enters a host organism's cell. After it is inside, the virus takes control of the host's genetic material, and it uses the cell's natural replication process to make copies of itself. The copies are then released into the organism, where they infect additional cells, enabling the virus to spread quickly throughout the body. The host cells usually are destroyed when the copies are released, although they sometimes remain viable as carrier cells, depending on the virus.

The distinction between a DNA virus and an RNA virus is based on the type of genetic material found in the viral capsule, or virion, before it joins a host cell. After they are inside the host, DNA and RNA viruses hijack the cell differently, depending on which type they are. DNA viruses, such as varicella-zoster, which causes chicken pox, attach to the host's DNA, which is then converted to messenger RNA to begin the replication process. Most RNA viruses, on the other hand, skip the DNA step and immediately direct infected cells to begin replicating viral cells.

Retroviruses, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), are a type of RNA virus that is programmed to change the host cell's DNA to incorporate it. This enables infected cells to function normally until it is time for the cell to naturally replicate, at which point the virus takes over and copies itself. These viruses are especially problematic because they can remain latent for many years, during which time an infected person might not know to seek treatment and might spread the virus to others.

Common RNA viruses include influenza, measles, mumps and West Nile virus. Viruses consist of only a small piece of genetic code and a protein coat, so they are not responsive to medicines that are designed to kill them, such as antibiotics. Vaccines, on the other hand, can often prevent them from replicating and spreading to adjacent cells, especially if they are given before the virus has made too many copies of itself.

Certain retroviruses are strongly correlated with cancer. Leukemia, for example, occurs in a large number of people infected with human T-lymphotropic virus. This observation, combined with the fact that viruses can trigger cells to replicate uncontrollably, has led some researchers to explore the possibility that an RNA virus might cause at least some cancers.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

The Health Board, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.