It’s good to go viral

Today, as government expenditure focuses more and more on wellness rather than illness, fields that focus on prevention of disease before it strikes are on the rise.

It’s good to go viral

Gauri Chhabra

Today, as government expenditure focuses more and more on wellness rather than illness, fields that focus on prevention of disease before it strikes are on the rise. One such field is that of Virology. Virology is the study of viruses — submicroscopic, parasitic particles of genetic material contained in a protein coat - and virus-like agents. This field frequently uses laboratory research to study the structure, classification, and evolution of viruses, as well as their interactions with host cells and the way other living creatures fight them. Virology also focuses on the spread of infectious disease, including threats like the common cold, rabies, yellow fever, and polio.

Work profile

Virologists often work with research centers, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies to develop vaccines that help fight viral infections. More recently, virology has started to focus on using viruses or virus-like structures for medical treatments, such as mapping neurons in the brain.

Virologists usually are some of the best trained public health professionals, with most in this field earning at least a bachelor's degree in a science, and then a masters degree in Public Health in addition to a PhD. in some cases.

Virologists study how viruses are able to replicate in animal, plant and bacterial cells. To replicate, viruses take over the host cells on which they are parasites.  

Getting in

You can be in the field of medicine or research. Medical doctors focusing on virology may carry out clinical research or work with patients afflicted with viruses. 

Virology researchers work under a broad range of issues, including viral pathology, viral oncology, emerging viruses, virotherapy, viral replication, virus-cell interactions, and plant virology.

Education and skill set

Virology is a subdivision of biology, so, you need an undergraduate degree in biology. You will also need to take physics and chemistry at the university level.

  • A graduate with a BSc in Microbiology is qualified to work at various research and technical positions, including veterinary microbiologist, research assistant and food microbiologist. Laboratory and clinical experience is decidedly important for a virologist, and most virologists get this experience in graduate school.
  • With a MSc in Microbiology, you can hunt for positions as a supervisor or laboratory manager, research associate or instructor on the community college level.
  • A Doctoral Degree, PhD. in Microbiology is necessary for the uppermost posts in this field, such as a professor at a college/university, researcher, or a research director.

A clinical virologist follows the traditional medical school path for four years after completing undergraduate studies. As a scientific virologist, you'll typically join a PhD for four to six years, combining coursework, lab rotations and research. Some medical schools offer a joint MD and PhD qualification. This usually splits a regular med school program into two sets of two years, with as many as four years of PhD study in between.

MSc: It is a two-year full-time postgraduate biomedical course. The minimum eligibility for the same is bachelor's degree in Life Sciences or BVSc. or BSc. Medical Laboratory Technology or MBBS or BSc. Biotechnology or BSc. Microbiology/ Biochemistry/Zoology or any other related subject with over 50 per cent marks in aggregate.

Some institutions offer direct admissions, some prepare the list on the basis of merit and the some of the highly reputed colleges and universities conduct their own entrance tests to select the candidates on the basis of performance in the same.

The candidates who wish to have a comprehensive theoretical knowledge of and practical training in animal virology including the mechanic's terms of virus spread disease causation diagnosis treatment and prevention of viral infections should definitely opt for the course. You are required to process skills like observation, communication, analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, reasoning and, perseverance for pursuing this course.

Graduates of this course who are willing for further higher studies can go for a PhD. in microbiology or related fields.

The road ahead

India, being a country of extreme geo-climatic diversity, faces a constant threat of emerging and re-emerging viral infections.There is a need for strengthening disease surveillance in the country focusing on the epidemiology and disease burden. This sets a spiralling need for virologists who can change the course of health care.

Institute watch

  • National Institute of Virology, Pune
  • Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati
  • Savitribhai Phule Pune University, Maharashtra
  • Manipal University, Karnataka
  • Amity Institute of Virology and Immunology, Noida

Career pathways

There are a host of opportunities available. You may reflect on what aspect of virology you are interested in (i.e. research, public health or medical doctor), since, each aspect needs different education and training. 

Virologists are employed in just about every industry; food, health, agriculture, control, pollution, bio-technology, and pharmaceuticals. They are also engaged in government agencies and laboratories, such as, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, water treatment facilities, and hospitals. 

A virologist has an option of having a career in research and education as well. They split their time between these two activities. They may also work as science writers or pursue additional training to work in pharmaceutical business or law. Researchers may be employed by universities, government agencies, or health organizations. Some virologists work in industry research and develop new medications.


For those who get an idea of what a virologist is from television or film, you may have a skewed notion of the work day of a virologist. Actually, most of the work in this field is serious laboratory research, which is what draws so many people to this exciting field.

Some of the hottest areas of research in virology include:

  • Emerging viruses, such as Ebola, Sin Nombre and SARS. These have only recently been discovered, and are the focus of a tremendous amount of fascinating research.
  • Viral pathogenesis, which looks at how viruses cause disease. Much of the research here involves using animal studies, and also use information from host and viral genomes to determine viral virulence.
  • Plant virology, which is the study of viruses and how they affect plants. These infections can have a terrible impact on agriculture in developing nations.

Public Health & Safety

Outside of direct research efforts, some jobs in virology specialise in public health and safety, and these roles often help decide when to declare a quarantine or send doctors to help treat viral infection outbreaks. A few virologists focus on examining and implementing safety procedures to limit the potential for viruses to move into an uncontrolled environment.


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