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Do viruses generally attack as soon as they can or do they lie dormant until they reach a cozy spot in the body?

Like is it improbable I have inhaled a virus if I do not feel pain in my lungs?

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Different viruses have different "modes of attack". Also, it depends on what you mean with "attack".

As a really short introduction to what viruses are, they are very unlike your body cells or bacteria. They are literally (usually) just genetic information with a kind of shell. The shell allows them to penetrate cells, where they then use the cell itself to produce more viruses. That's all they do, reproduce.

So, what do I mean with different "modes of attack" - well, different viruses lead to different things. For example, infections with Herpes simplex are often asymptotic and many people have no idea that they are infected. If you get the flu, however, you will notice.

Every virus that can infect humans will try to spread as soon as it enters the body. It won't linger around and wait - HIV directly targets immune cells, herpes directly targets nerve cells. The reproduction does takes time, but if they start reproducing and the immune system can't destroy them immediately symptoms can follow soon (think influenza) or late (HIV/AIDS). With most viral infections, the immune system at one point catches up and destroys the virus.

Like is it improbable I have inhaled a virus if I do not feel pain in my lungs?

I'm going to assume you mean either the virus responsible for colds (rhinovirus) or the flu (influenza) here. No, it's perfectly normal to be exposed to either of these viruses without noticing anything. Many people come into contact with infected people without ever showing any symptoms, because their immune system takes care of the infection before any symptoms show up. If it does show up, it will be within a matter of days, though. The flu virus won't stay in your lungs for weeks waiting, it has no way of doing that (viruses are... very simple in that regard).

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  • $\begingroup$ Like your answer but I am still wondering something: Say you know you are infected. Say you remember the times and the places where you felt pain. Is this a reliable time log/trace of how the virus entered/spread throughout your body? Maybe for some sorts of viruses? $\endgroup$ – Emil Dec 23 '15 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Emil It takes a certain so-called infectious dose of a given causative agent to become symptomatic of it's disease. The paradigm is that you normally get infected long before you experience symptoms, and by then the virus has rather nicely spread itself around in advance! $\endgroup$ – CKM Dec 24 '15 at 12:01

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