Dr. Kevin Dalby Explains What Viruses Are, How They Spread, And How to Protect Against Them

As the world has recently witnessed, a virus pandemic comes without warning, and when it does, it beckons in numerous fatalities and economic uncertainty. Moreover, misinformation abounds, seeding social distrust, and confusion. Public misinformation, or misinterpretation of facts, is a public health issue and leads increases the chances of people becoming victims of the outbreak.


Kevin Dalby, Austin professor, working on cancer drug discovery, is chemical biology and medicinal chemistry professor at the College of Pharmacy at The University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Dalby explains the harm misinformation can cause, including spending money unnecessarily on protective measures that do not work, especially in a recovering economy and society. Dalby dives deeper into what viruses are, how they spread, and how one can lower their risk of becoming infected. 


What is a virus?

A virus is defined as an infectious agent whose size is smaller than a bacterium. Viruses are the smallest of all microbes. They carry a genetic code in the form of DNA or RNA and can inhabit and multiply in the living cells of animals, plants, or bacteria. The word “virus” was derived from a Latin word meaning “poison” or “slimy liquid.” Viruses’ biological nature was first discovered in 1892 by Dmitry I. Ivanovsky, a Russian scientist. Viruses may be relatively harmless, such as coronaviruses and rhinoviruses that cause the common cold or pose the threat of imminent death, such as the Ebola virus.


How does a virus spread?

How a virus spreads depends on the specific virus at hand. For example, the coronavirus driving the current pandemic spreads through respiratory droplets. A person with COVID-19 can infect another individual within a range of a few feet, as a result of respiratory droplets spawning from sneezing, speaking, or coughing. Moreover, active virus is found on people’s hands, phones, doorknobs, and other commonly touched surfaces. Another virus that can be transmitted through respiratory droplets is influenza, otherwise widely known as the flu. Some viruses can be spread through sexual contact, shared drug needles, or even fecal-to-oral transmission.


How do you protect yourself from a virus?

When identifying how to protect yourself from a virus best, be sure to familiarize yourself with how the particular viruses spread. A crucial strategy to often practice when protecting yourself from any virus is washing your hands, especially against viruses that cause the flu or COVID-19. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) suggests washing your hands for at least twenty seconds with soap and water. Staying home if you are sick is essential for the safety and health of others by preventing further infection, and always social distancing helps dramatically. If you are ill and need to visit the doctor’s office, make sure to cover your face and nose with a face mask to prevent transmitting the virus to those around you.  



About Kevin Dalby

Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry, currently working on cancer drug discovery. He is a co-director of the Texas Screening Alliance for Cancer Therapeutics, and the principal investigator on a CPRIT grant that gives Texas scientists access to resources for drug discovery research. By understanding cancer cell signaling, Dr. Dalby works to improve diagnoses and utilize technological advances to develop targeted pharmaceuticals for different cancers.