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Learn about viruses with online courses and programs

Virology is the study and development of new treatments for infectious diseases. Learn about viruses with online courses delivered through edX.

What are viruses?

Viruses are unique organisms that solely replicate within the living host cells of other organisms, much like a parasite. They lack essential features found in traditional biological life forms, like complex cellular structures. Instead, they consist of simple strands of genetic material (RNA) encased within a protein coat known as a capsid. Due to this distinct lack of typical life characteristics, viruses are often considered as being, not "alive".Footnote 1

The process of a viral infection begins when a virus infiltrates a host cell, coercing it to replicate the virus from within. Unlike bacterial infections, viruses do not respond to conventional treatments, necessitating a different medical approach. Our immune system can combat many viruses that we encounter, but newly emerging viruses may present greater challenges.

Viruses have been responsible for several notable epidemics, including the Ebola virus and COVID-19. Even well-known viruses, such as those within the coronavirus family, remain capable of mutating in response to changing environmental conditions.

Viruses | Introduction Image

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Virus course curriculum

In an online course focused on viruses, participants can learn a wide range of topics related to virology. Subjects that can be covered in these courses could include:

  • Virology fundamentals: An introduction to the basic principles of virology.

  • Viral pathogenesis: Understand how viruses cause diseases.

  • Epidemiology and outbreaks: Examine the spread of viral infections in populations.

  • Vaccines and antiviral therapies: Explore the development of vaccines to prevent viral diseases.

  • Emerging viral diseases: Study recent and emerging viral diseases.

  • Viral evolution and genetics: Investigate how viruses evolve, mutate, and adapt to new environments.

Online courses that focus on virology can vary in depth and specialization, from introductory courses suitable for beginners to more advanced programs for those pursuing a career in virology. edX offers a variety of educational opportunities for learners interested in studying these topics, as well as a host of other disciplines. A boot camp can provide flexible hands-on learning for those who want to upskill quickly, while executive education courses are designed for busy professionals. You can also pursue a more comprehensive curriculum in a bachelor’s degree program or, for more advanced learners, a master’s degree program. Find the right learning path for you.

Why learn about viruses

Studying viruses and specializing in virology or related fields may open up a number of career opportunities, including:

  • Virologist: Studies viruses, their behavior, and their impact on human health and the environment.

  • Microbiologist: Studies microorganisms, including viruses.

  • Epidemiologist: Investigates the causes and spread of diseases, including viral outbreaks. 

  • Clinical laboratory scientist: Tests and analyzes samples to diagnose and monitor viral infections.

  • Infectious disease specialist: Diagnoses and treats patients with viral infections.

Each of these roles will have different education and skills requirements. Before deciding on a specific learning path, research the positions you hope to pursue and align your coursework with your career goals.

Are you ready to make a career shift into this field? Start learning the skills you need today with edX.