What conditions can viruses live in?

Viruses, bacteria and germs are the biggest enemies of human beings as they cause lots and lots of diseases to us. It is our immune system that guards against these enemies by making antibodies to defend us and prevent the onset of many different infections and diseases.  This article intends to highlight one of these enemies, the viruses and the conditions they can live in to enhance our knowledge about these enemies, especially their latest avatars the avian flu and the swine flu.

Viruses can be of different shapes and sizes

Most of us know, or at least tell about viruses because of our first hand experiences with them. After all, the common cold and flu are diseases that all of us encounter every year (well, most of us). Viruses are the easiest to spread through coughing and wheezing and through physical contact with the infected person. If common flu virus is rather benign, leaving us with within a week or so after causing fever, congestion aches and pains etc, or it can be as deadly as a AIDS virus causing lots of suffering, pain, and possibly death for the individual. Before going any deep, let us see why viruses can attack us so easily and what makes them spread across human beings so easily and quickly.

Virus does not live but needs a living cell to replicate

A virus is not a living thing. It is not non living thing either. What then is this entity, one thousandth the average size of bacteria that cannot be seen with naked eyes? When bacteria are many times smaller than a human cell, one can imagine how small viruses are. A virus is actually a set of instructions, genetic ones at that, which can create its replicas in thousands and millions but to do this; it needs a living cell so that it can use the resources of the cell to multiply crazily. Viruses use the machinery of the cell as they lack it completely. If a virus does not get a host cell, it cannot live.

Viruses live, or just lie in our environment in the hope of getting a host cell. Once inside our body through nose or mouth, they attach themselves to the host cell and reveal their genetic instruction, literally forcing the cell to make replicas of itself.  Thus virus does not destroy the host cell but only uses it to make thousands of its copies to get attached to other cells, thereby quickly spreading inside the body of the person. Thus it would be better to call viruses as organisms at the edge of life rather than living or non living things.

Viruses have been responsible for loss of millions of lives in the past because of our limited knowledge about these organisms. Not knowing how they live, transmit, and spread meant that in previous attacks of viruses such as the Spanish flu in 1918 people caught the virus and got infected because of ignorance and succumbed to the infection easily with no medications available. Viruses are notorious for becoming pandemic soon as they come into limelight as people do not have the required immunity to fight against them. Pandemic refers to the outbreak of a disease in such a manner that it spreads to a very large area in a very short time period.

Avian flu and Swine flu are two virus infections that have hogged much limelight in the last decade or so. This is not that they have been the deadliest of virus infections but because of the fear they struck in the minds of the people across the world. The images of fear stricken people wearing face masks and news of thousands of birds and pigs being slaughtered in different parts of the world are still fresh in the memories of the world. While bird flu appeared earlier in 1999, it was swine flu that struck in 2009 but soon captured the imagination of the people. Here it has to be remembered that just as birds did not cause flu like symptoms in human beings at that time, so is the case with pigs who do not cause swine flu in human beings. Scientists found that it is a mutated strain of virus called H1N1 that directly affects human beings and spreads easily from parson to person. Today, there is even a vaccine that prevents people from catching H1N1 virus. While H1N1 virus was a pandemic in 2009-2010, it is under control and in post pandemic stage now.