Virology is a branch of the sciences which focuses on the study of viruses and organisms which behave like viruses, such as prions and viroids. Researchers in this field can work with viruses which attack plants, animals, or bacteria, conducting research both in the lab and in the field. Many governments invest heavily in virology to address issues which relate to public health, and private drug companies and research institutions are also interested in virology and its applications.
One of the primary goals of virology is classification, in which viruses are studied to determine what they are and how they work. Classification can be used to determine that various viruses are related to each other, and that they may therefore work in the same way, or be vulnerable to the same antiviral drugs. Being able to classify viruses also allows researchers to determine if the virus has been seen before, and to link the viruses they find with existing studies and information.
Virologists also are concerned with the structure of viruses, and the way in which viruses work. Though not considered living organisms, viruses can be quite complex, and they have adapted a number of clever tricks, like hijacking cells and getting them to reproduce the virus or tricking the body into thinking that a viral agent is not an unwanted invader. Understanding how these organisms work can be an important part of developing methods which can be used to eradicate them.
Viral diseases, the outcome of viral infection, are also of interest to virologists, along with modes of transmission and related topics. When outbreaks of viruses occur, researchers conduct research to determine where the virus came from, how it can be treated, what the symptoms are, and how additional infections might be prevented. Virologists also track long term trends, such as changes in viral DNA, or alterations in immunity levels in populations which are at risk of infection.
Virologists work to develop drugs which can be used in the treatment of viral infections, and they also develop vaccines, in which small amounts of antigens are introduced into the body to stimulate it into producing antibodies which will defend it in the event of viral exposure. Some viruses remain relatively static, allowing researchers to rely on the same vaccine year after year, while others quickly mutate and change, requiring the development of new vaccines and drugs so that the medical and virology community can stay ahead.