The ABCs Of Viruses

Mar 17, 2020 By James H, Writer
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Did you know that viruses are not really considered “alive?”

Viruses do not produce energy as human cells do to power their bodies. They cannot grow or reproduce by themselves, nor can they maintain a stable internal environment in their bodies (known as homeostasis).

In this article, we answer five simple questions about viruses. 

What is a virus?

A virus is a piece of genetic material (such as DNA or RNA) that is surrounded by a shell of protein.

There are millions of viruses that are extremely tiny and come in many shapes. They can infect all organisms whether its an animal, plant or even bacteria.

A coronavirus is named so because it has crown-like spikes. There are four types of coronaviruses that affect people during the flu season. The COVID-19 is a new kind of coronavirus that evolved in animals first before affecting humans. 

How do they infect and spread? 

A virus relies on infecting other healthy cells to survive and reproduce.

The virus disguises itself as a nutrient and enters an unsuspecting cell. Then, it injects its genetic material or RNA into the cell. The infected cell now reproduces this genetic material and makes more viruses.

Every time a virus duplicates, a mutation might occur. When a virus gets stronger because of the mutation, it becomes even harder to stop the virus. Once the viruses leave the cell, the process repeats, and the infection spreads to more cells.

How do they enter our body?

Viruses can float in the air or stick to any surface for days, and once people come into contact with these infected areas, they risk being infected themselves.

For humans, viruses can enter through the eyes, nose, and mouth. As a result, talking to someone who has had the virus can lead to breathing in the virus and causing an infection. People can also catch the virus if they touch surfaces that have viruses stuck to it and then bring their hands to their faces. 

How does our body fight the virus?  

Our body's immune system is the primary defense mechanism -- it produces chemicals that tell the white blood cells (cells that fight infections) to destroy the invading viruses and the damaged cells. 

The symptoms that you feel when you have the flu, such as a runny nose, sore throat, and high temperature are the effects of the immune system fighting the virus.

When the flu virus infects the lungs, it causes inflammation of lung cells. Fluids from the cells enter the tiny air sacs in the lungs, making it hard to breathe -- this is called viral pneumonia. 

What can we do to stay healthy?

Normally, vaccines have prevented infections by introducing a weakened virus into the body and letting our body's immune system learn how to handle the infection. However, a vaccine is not available for the new COVID-19 virus.

Until then, however, precautions can be taken to lower the possibility of catching and spreading the infection. The best way is to wash your hands with soap thoroughly and avoid touching your face as much as possible.

Another way to slow the spread of the virus is to avoid contact with other people who might have the disease. Currently, schools, workplaces, and public places have been temporarily closed to prevent people from gathering in large groups and potentially spreading the disease even more. 

One More -- Should I be concerned about COVID-19?

Your parents, doctors, and the government are doing everything they can to keep you safe and healthy. Life will be different for a few weeks. But as we have seen in China where the virus originated, it is possible to beat the virus if we follow good hygiene and work together as a society to protect those who are vulnerable (like the elderly and the sick).

Sources: Kids Health, Britannica, askabiologist.asu.edu