Common Viral Infections

The most common viral infections in humans, by far, are colds and flu. But viruses can also cause infections and diseases ranging from mild (mononucleosis) to severe (dengue fever and AIDS).


Warts are small, generally harmless growths on the skin. Most often they're just ugly, but in some cases they can be problematic. Common warts appear most often on the hands; plantar warts are on the soles of the feet; genital warts are found in the pubic area and on the genitals. They're caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV, a version of which can lead to cervical cancer.

OTC wart medications containing concentrated salicylic acid (Compound W, Transversal PlantarPatch) are often recommended for warts (except those on the face or genitals). These products dissolve the wart over a period of weeks, but they're highly corrosive and can burn the surrounding skin if not applied carefully. Some doctors prescribe stronger medications or remove warts via surgery, cyrotherapy (freezing), or electrocautery (burning). Genital warts are often treated with topical applications of imiqui-mod (Aldara), an immunomodulating drug that can cause itching, burning, and other side effects.

Cold Sores

Cold sores, also known as oral herpes or fever blisters, are caused by a type of herpes simplex virus (a relative of the one that causes genital herpes; see below). This infection is highly contagious — and permanent (it can recur indefinitely). After the initial sore heals, the virus settles into a dormant state in your nerve cells, where it will remain until it's reactivated (often by stress, trauma, or excessive sun exposure).

Many plants are natural antivirals. Green tea extracts can fight flu viruses and are also the key ingredient in sinecatechines (Veregen) ointment, a prescription drug that's approved by the FDA as a treatment for genital warts. Another genital wart drug, podophyllotoxin (Podofilox), is derived from two types of mayapple trees, Podophyllum peltatum and P. hexandrum.

Treatment Options

Conventional medicine treats viral infections with oral or topical prescription medications such as acyclovir (Zovirax) or penciclovir (Denavir), which suppress the virus. Acyclovir can cause side effects like diarrhea and vomiting (in the oral preparation) and burning and inflammation (in the topical form). Topical denavir can cause headache, skin reactions, and changes in your sense of smell or taste. These herbs offer another type of relief:

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea)

Echinacea is a powerful weapon against viral infections. It's lethal to several pathogenic viruses, including the strain of herpes that causes cold sores, and can help boost your internal defenses as well.

Garlic (Allium sativum)

Garlic is a proven antiviral and can help fight infection both inside and out. Research shows that fresh garlic extracts can eradicate the viruses that cause herpes (as well as influenza and the common cold), and an isolated garlic compound has been shown effective against warts.

Isatis (Isatis tinctoria)

This Chinese herb, taken in combination with astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), accelerates the healing of cold sores and warts.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Topical applications can reduce the size and severity of cold sores, shorten their healing time, and prevent the spread of the infection.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)

Licorice root contains phytochemicals that have been proven effective against several types of infectious viruses, including those that cause cold sores.

Sage (Salvia officinalis, S. lavandulaefolia)

Applied topically, sage extracts can halt viral infections. Research shows that a combination of sage and rhubarb (Rheum officinale, R. palmatum) can heal cold sores as well as the prescription drug acyclovir.

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