What Is A Virus, and Ways You Can You Fight It

Virus. Image by Monoar_CGI_Artist

The current global pandemic has made viruses an extremely relevant topic of discussion. While the exact numbers may be disputed, it is fair to say that many people have been infected, sickened, killed or otherwise affected by COVID-19. This makes it very important for us all to know what we can do to fight a virus and how to stay strong both physically and mentally. To help with that, I’m going to make sure we can all answer the question “What is a virus?” and understand how they work. Then I’ll provide tips on how to stay safe and healthy.

What is a Virus?

According to the great general and strategist, Sun Tzu, in order to win a battle you must “know thy enemy.” Is this case, that requires us to first understand what a virus is. In very simplest terms, a virus is submicroscopic parasite. They are unable to reproduce by themselves, so must infect other living organisms in order to thrive and propagate. This may sound like a limitation, but they make hosts of humans and other animals, plants, and bacteria. And in fact, there are millions of types of viruses in the environment. That makes them the most prolific form of life on Earth!

Simplified diagram of the structure of viruses. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Attribution: Graham Beards at English Wikipedia.

Viruses come in a variety of shapes that range from simple helix to icosahedral (like 2-sided dice). While the shapes may vary, all viruses share the same physical features. All viruses consist of DNA or RNA, which may be single- or double-stranded. This nucleic acid exists inside a protein coat called a capsid. Additionally, some viruses may also have a protein-studded outer envelope, which they obtain as they emerge from their host cell.

How Viruses Replicate

In order to survive, viruses must first enter and infect the cells of a host. Once inside, they use components of the host cell to make copies of themselves. While some viruses may be relatively benign, most often kill the host cell during this replication process. In turn, this damages the host organism. The affects of this damage become apparent as disease and other ailments.

Viral Replication. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Author: Nossedotti (Anderson Brito). Original title: " Replication cycle of a hypothetical virus"

The diagram above gives a general idea of the viral replication process.

  1. The virus binds to the outside of a potential host cell.
  2. Spike proteins in the virus envelope help the virus enter the cell.
  3. Virus DNA (or RNA) is released into the host cell.
  4. RNA gives instructions to the cell to create new virus components.
  5. The virus DNA is replicated.
  6. New copies of the virus are assembled by the tricked host cell.
  7. Completed copies of the virus are released.

During this process, the instructions given by the virus DNA/RNA may cause the host cell to perform abnormally. Some viruses allow the cell to live and replicate itself, only to carry the virus along with it. And some viruses cause the host cell to die off. Regardless, when the new viruses emerge, they are ready to infect new cells. They may attach to neighboring cells, or travel through the bloodstream to other regions within the host. When released to the environment they seek new hosts in which to repeat the cycle.

How to Fight Viruses

External Factors

Limit Virus Exposure. Image by Yaroslav Danylchenko.

Since viruses are so prolific, your body is exposed to them -and fighting them- on a regular basis. If you are in good health, you are likely winning these battles more often than not. However, some viral diseases are so aggressive, it makes sense to limit your exposure to them. To reduce your chances of exposure:

  • Clean surfaces with alcohol, bleach, or other agents that are proven to kill viruses.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and running water, or with alcohol.
  • Limit contact with those who are known to be infected and contagious.
  • Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose when around others who may possibly be infected. This simply cuts down on the virus cells you may inhale.

Internal Factors

Because viruses have been around since before the dawn of man, our bodies have evolved to expect infection. Your immune system is naturally designed to recognize and fight viruses via the creation of antibodies.

An antibody is a Y-shaped protein used by the immune system to identify and neutralize infectious bacteria and viruses. The antibody (AKA immunoglobulin) recognizes a unique molecule of the pathogen, called an antigen, and binds to it. This flags the invader to be attacked by white blood cells which ‘eat’ the virus or other pathogen.

Antibodies and Phagocytosis. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Maher33. 29 May 2018

Vaccines help your body create the antibodies needed to quickly recognize new invading viruses. This allows your body to fight them before severe infection. Mass acceptance of vaccines has been extremely effective in curbing the spread of viral diseases like polio, rubella and diphtheria. In 1980, the World Health Organization announced that effective vaccination completely eliminated smallpox worldwide.

The point is, vaccines use mechanisms that are part of your natural immune system. Therefore, supporting your immunity is an important component of fighting any disease. In order to maximize your body’s infection-fighting ability, start by optimizing your overall health by:

  • Eating a well-balanced diet – helps ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs to build antibodies and virus-fighting cells.
  • Exercising on a regular basis – increases the production of white blood cells.
  • Reducing stress – decreases your production of cortisol, a hormone that inhibits your immune system’s effectiveness.
  • Getting enough quality sleep – enables a well-balanced immune defense with strong innate and adaptive immunity, and efficient response to vaccines. Moreover, when we sleep we produce cytokines, proteins which target infection and inflammation, and create a positive immune response.

Boosting your Immune System with Onnit

The links above provide suggestions on ways you can improve your overall health. But sometimes we all need a little extra support. Thankfully, there are products we can use to compliment and enhance our efforts.

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I hope the above information is useful in helping you understand what a virus is, and how common they are. As you can see, there are many things you can do to help decrease your exposure and increase your ability to fight them. This is important because they are not going away anytime soon. But the above tips should help you reduce the frequency and severity of your infections. This will keep you healthier and more productive, and also help prevent you from spreading a virus to others. If we all take the appropriate steps to protect and take care of ourselves -and each other- hopefully we can see the end of pandemics sooner than later. Stay safe, stay healthy!


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Dave Hughes

Editor and Contributing Author at Kaldzar

Certified Biologist and Data Scientist
Constantly curious; Curiously compassionate
.

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