Space Invaders: Facts About Viruses

For such a small organism, viruses can be quite complicated and cause a lot of damage. For example, despite having no brain and no means to replicate on its own, a virus can wreak havoc on our human bodies.

So, is a virus dead or alive? Scientists have debated over the whole living vs. non-living debate for some time. What scientist have discovered through years of research is that viruses are not predictable and they are not as simple to understand as they appear. Just when science has a breakthrough method to fight a particular virus, the virus will change and evolve.

As weird as it sounds, viruses are both frustrating and amazing. To find out more about how they operate, let's take a look at some interesting facts about the small hijacker known as the virus.

Living vs Non-Living

1. Living vs Non-Living

Are they dormant? Viruses have been described as inanimate objects floating around waiting for another cell to provide them with life. So, really a virus is just a lifeless bundle of complex organic matter. Because they are dependent on host cells, viruses operate on the cusp of life and non-life.

Unlike other organisms, viruses don’t need a source of food and they have no metabolism or production of energy that you would find in other organisms that are classified as livings cells.

So, standing on their own, viruses cannot replicate or evolve. They can only reproduce or evolve within other living cells. Also, because of this dependency on a host cell, many scientists refer to a virus as parasitic.

Hitching a Ride

2. Hitching a Ride

Why evolve into your own organism when you can hijack another living host to do all the work for you? Viruses cannot move about on their own, but they do have an outer layer called a capsid with spikes. These spikes allow the virus to hook onto a host and eventually take over the cell.

Since viruses never bothered to evolve into their own independent organism, they rely on their host cell for energy production, reproduction, and survival. Once the virus has hijacked their host cell, they begin their hostile takeover. They trick the cell into replicating viral genomes and producing proteins that the virus needs to survive.

Although they are microscopic in size, viruses are the cause of many big ailments. Many common viral illnesses are the result of a viral takeover within our bodies.

Divide and Conquer

3. Divide and Conquer

A virus has only one goal - to reproduce. Through a hijacking process, viruses replicate in the body. When a virus reproduces, its offspring quickly spread to new host cells. When one offspring of a virus gets into a new host cell, it multiplies incredibly quickly.

Within hours, thousands of copies can be made from a single virus. However, the rate of reproduction and spreading to other cells depends on the makeup of the virus.

The transmission of a virus can take place in a variety of ways. The spread can happen through touching, coughing or sneezing, intimate contact, contaminated food or water, and can even be transmitted by insects that carry viruses from one person to another.

Gone Viral

4. Gone Viral

Unlike bacterial infections, it is very hard to treat viral infections. Antibiotics will not help. Simply put, antibiotics cannot kill viruses because viruses are very different from bacteria in structure and in the way they replicate.

Viruses love the cold. They thrive best in a cold environment. This may explain why we sometimes have a fever in response to a viral illness. The hot temperature of your body helps the immune system to get rid of viruses.

Most illnesses caused by a virus do not need medication and because our bodies are designed to recognize these invaders and our immune system will switch on and begin to fight off the illness. Unfortunately, this can take time. A common cold can last up to 10 days. If you come down with a viral illness, the best thing you can do is rest, drink plenty of fluids, and treat symptoms. Symptoms like fever, pain, soreness or aches, can be treated with proper doses of pain and fever relievers as directed by your doctor or pharmacist.

Viruses cause many human diseases, but there are also viruses that specifically infect animals, plants, fungi, protozoa, and bacteria. Some scientist even believe that it is possible that some viruses can actually infect other viruses.

Here are some examples of common illnesses that are caused by viruses: sore throats, coughs, colds, runny noses, acute sinusitis, bronchitis, some eye or ear infections, and the Flu (influenza). Some other familiar but more uncommon viral illnesses include smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and shingles. Some of the most fierce viral illnesses include Ebola, Zika, HPV, and HIV.

Not all viruses are bad, though. Some viral proteins can be helpful. Our guts are full of bacteria and viruses and there are some good guys down there. Our good intestinal viruses can actually help aid the immune system – without causing any negative side effects.