Carl Zimmer updates us on recent anti-virals research:
Virologists … are still waiting for their Penicillin Moment. But they might not have to wait forever. Buoyed by advances in molecular biology, a handful of researchers in labs around the US and Canada are homing in on strategies that could eliminate not just individual viruses but any virus, wiping out viral infections with the same wide-spectrum efficiency that penicillin and Cipro bring to the fight against bacteria. If these scientists succeed, future generations may struggle to imagine a time when we were at the mercy of viruses, just as we struggle to imagine a time before antibiotics.
But a breakthrough could have downsides:
Even success might bring unanticipated problems. That’s certainly the lesson from the story of broad-spectrum antibiotics. If you swallow a Cipro pill for a salmonella infection, it will wipe out not just the salmonella but many other beneficial bacteria in your gut. Once the salmonella is gone, it may take weeks, months, or even years for the microbial ecosystem to return to something resembling its former state. This disruption can, ironically, allow other pathogens to sneak in and establish themselves.