A Career as a Virologist: Virus Hunter As COVID-19 continues its grip on the world, the need for a vaccine to defeat the virus is urgent. Developing a vaccine or a treatment is a painstakingly slow and detailed endeavour. Finding a compound that works, testing it in animals, and then rolling it out to clinical trials in humans can take years. But this pandemic is pushing the researchers, better known as virologists, to work around the clock and develop a vaccine as soon as possible.
What’s this career about?
Much is still misunderstood or unknown about the Corona virus which has brought regions of the globe to a standstill and placed a huge pressure on the global economy. It resembles other known epidemics, and is highly infectious.
Virologists battle some of the worst diseases on earth. They are medical professionals who seek to understand viruses such as Corona virus, Zika, Ebola, AIDS and polio. Viruses have many routes of infection, ranging from human behaviours through to insect bites.
As a virologist, they’ll be expected to learn about how viruses spread, how to isolate them, and how to diagnose, treat and prevent infections. They are also responsible for investigating the pharmacological response of viruses to antiviral drugs and the evolution of drug resistance.
These ‘disease detectives’ spend most of their time in microbiology or virology laboratories with powerful microscopes. They study the microscopic organisms or viruses that cause these and other diseases in hopes of finding vaccines. Increasingly, they team up with researchers and experts from other fields. From time to time, the work involves dangerous organisms for special precautions must be taken including the wearing of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).
When there is a viral outbreak on a ward, virologists work together with the hospital’s infection control team, advising staff on the ward on the extent of transmission and how to limit further infection.
Virologists typically work in research or teaching, and many split their time between these two activities. They may also work as science writers or pursue additional training to work in the pharmaceutical business or law.