Zombies? Science Fiction? Fantasy? No, it’s the very real flu virus, cold virus, rabies, HIV, ebola or any other viruses.
Viruses are microscopic nonliving organisms that can only reproduce by hijacking the production mechanism inside a living host’s cells. The virus replicates itself until the cell bursts, spreading the virus further. This usually means death to each cell that becomes infected. If the host’s immune system cannot destroy the virus, ultimately it can mean a very bad outcome for the host as well.
They differ from bacteria in that bacteria are alive, reproduce through fission (splitting apart) and carry on metabolic functions such as digestion.
Viruses cannot reproduce on their own. They need to attach themselves to a host’s cells and inject it with their DNA/RNA, taking over the cell’s “machinery” to manufacture and reproduce. This continues until the cell literally bursts. The new viruses go on the hunt for more cells to continue this cycle.
Viruses are 10 to 100 times smaller than bacteria. Common water filters can block bacteria, however viruses can pass through many common filters.
Many bacteria are beneficial and even necessary for human existence. Our digestive tracts are filled with good bacteria - Normal Flora - that help break down food and even produce vitamins, such as vitamin K, that are critical to our well-being.
We all know there are also harmful bacteria such as Streptococcus pyogenes that causes strep throat or E. coli that causes food poisoning.
But there are no beneficial viruses that we know of. In fact, a type of virus called a bacteriophage even infects and kills bacteria.
Antibiotics are useless against viruses. Antibiotics only kill off bacteria, which is why doctors will only prescribe them once they are certain an illness is caused by a bacteria and not a virus.
Even though antiviral drugs do exist, they aren’t even able to kill viruses. They only limit a virus’s ability to develop further.
The best methods for keeping safe from these dangerous invaders in the first place is to practice basic hygiene and common sense. Washing your hands frequently, getting the flu shot, staying clear of wild animals that may carry rabies such as raccoons and avoiding contact with anyone already infected especially if they coughing or sneezing, are some of the leading precautions you can take.