Whereas bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, viral infections require either vaccinations to prevent them in the first place or antiviral drugs to treat them; sometimes, supportive measures that just treat the symptoms of the infection are adequate.
Vaccinations are generally the cheapest and most effective way to prevent viruses. Currently, vaccinations exist for polio, measles, mumps, and rubella, among others. In fact, vaccinations have been instrumental in eliminating diseases, such as smallpox, and reducing other viral diseases to extremely rare status.
Virus vaccinations consist of a weakened form of the virus (live-attenuated viruses) or viral proteins called antigens that stimulate the body to form antibodies that will fight off future infections with the same virus. Live-attenuated vaccines carry the risk of causing the original disease in people with weak immune systems.
Antiviral drugs have been developed largely in response to the AIDS pandemic. These drugs do not destroy the pathogen but instead inhibit their development. There are also antivirals available for the treatment of infection with the herpes simplex virus, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, influenza, shingles, and chicken pox.
Viral infections tend to resolve on their own without treatment. While the infection is present, treatment usually focuses on symptom relief such as pain, fever, and cough.