Over the last few years it has been hard to ignore the media reports about possible virus epidemics: SARS, influenza, bird flu and of course most recently Swine flu. The development of technology over the years has helped scientists understand the nature of viruses and that a virus is a living parasite that is not capable of surviving on its own and therefore needs a host cell to survive and multiply, unlike bacteria that can multiply on their own.
The origins of viruses stem back thousands of years. An ancient hieroglyph dating back to around 3700BC is thought to depict a man with the polio virus and examinations of the mummified body of Pharaoh Ramses V seemed to indicate that he was a victim of smallpox. Smallpox was endemic in China by 1000BC and the Chinese were the first to discover the practice of variolation, a process whereby a small amount of liquid from a smallpox lesion is given to a scratch in the arm. However, it was in 1796 when Edward Jenner pioneered vaccination against the disease using material from a woman infected with cowpox and injected this into a child. He then later injected the child with smallpox and he didn't become infected. This led to a worldwide vaccination programme which eventually eradicated the disease in 1979.
The beginnings of virology are thought to be as a result of a Russian botanist who discovered that disease in tobacco plants could transfer to other plants. This led to debates over how viruses spread from person to person, plant to plant and animal to animal. Virology today is considered to be a branch of microbiology and pathology and it is possible to take virology as a module in these courses. There are some courses dedicated to virology. The kind of modules that you may study are listed below, but you will need to check with the institutions themselves for up-to-date module information.
Example areas of study
- Gene expression
- Molecular biology
- Microbial pathogenicity
- Host defence mechanisms
- Infectious diseases
- Virus host interactions
- Membranes and signalling
- Viral pathogenesis
- Antibiotics and their effects
- Environmental health
- Infection and immunity
- Virus replications
Some career possibilities
With a degree in virology it is possible to pursue a career within the medical field as a virologist, a laboratory technician or within a research capacity. Other areas of employment may be found in the pharmaceutical, agricultural or food industries. Postgraduate research is available in virology-related areas such as diagnostic virology, molecular medicine, epidemiology of viruses and gene therapy.
What do I need to get on a course?
Entry requirements for courses in virology vary depending on the course and the institution at which you wish to study, so it is worth checking with them for their specific requirements. The entry requirements listed below will give you an idea of the grades and points you may need:
- UCAS Tariff: 260 - 300 points including chemistry and another science subject
- A-levels: BCC - BBB/ABC including chemistry and another science subject
- SQA Advanced Highers: BBB including chemistry and preferably another science
- Irish Leaving Certificates: BBBBBC
- International Baccalaureate: 28 - 32 points including chemistry at higher level
- European Baccalaureate: 65 - 75%
- BTEC National Diploma: DDM considered in a relevant subject
For your application or interview the following may be useful:
It is worth having a good scientific background and an interest in viruses and infections
To find out more about the typical subjects you will study, potential career paths and further information useful for your application log-on to Course Discover at www.coursediscoveronline.co.uk*
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