By Dr. Michael Miles
Special to the Crier
Viruses are minute biological entities that infect living organisms by splicing themselves into DNA. By doing so, every time their host DNA gets replicated, so do they. This makes them somewhat parasitic and perpetuates their existence ad infinitum.
Infection with a virus most often results in a harmful effect, though there are speculations that some evolutionary progressions can be attributable to the introduction of the rare “favorable strand” into the host DNA. In addition to these natural, random introductions of viruses, purposeful genetic engineering is currently exploring ways to effect other changes in the biology of our lives.
Viral strands of DNA are smaller than one-one-hundredth the size of bacteria. They are undetectable through a microscope. Diagnosis is often done only by observing the body’s immune response to their presence. There are millions of different kinds that exist on this planet. Humans collect quite an array of viruses as we travel through life. Some are more problematic than others.
Some of the more common viruses that we see in our daily lives include: the Chickenpox Virus (varicella), Mumps, Measles, Rubella (German measles), Epstein Barr Virus, Herpes Virus, HIV, HPV, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, Hepatitis, Parvo, Rabies and West Nile.
Some of these viruses are very resilient and some are not. Some can live outside of a body for a while and some are disabled within seconds of leaving a host. Fortunately, one that is associated with extremely poor outcomes, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is a very weak virus that quickly dies outside of the body. On the other hand, some viruses, such as the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), can damage tissue and greatly increase the possibility of cancer.
There is a constant fear that one day a new virus will surface that will have far reaching disastrous effects as seen in 1918 with the Spanish Flu Virus. It killed between 50 and 100 million people. However devastating this was, it could have been worse. To put it into perspective, its death toll was about 20 percent of those infected while the Bird Flu (H5N1) had a reported death rate of 60 percent. And, the Ebola Virus claimed as high as 90 percent of those infected. Rabies has an extraordinary 99.99 percent kill rate once brain symptoms appear which is why immediate attention is essential. It is simple and it is life saving.
Though these figures are alarming, most viruses that humans contract exist inside the body without interfering too greatly with everyday life. The Herpes Virus is an example of a virus that lies dormant most of the time. It usually finds a hiding place in nerve cells. Unfortunately, stress can create a condition that aggravates these viruses and they may surface on the skin in the form of little blisters known as vesicles.
There are a variety of treatments that help suppress the expression of viruses. It is, however, rare to totally eradicate them from the body.
A note of interest; the term virus has been adopted in recent times to identify computer programming codes that invade other computers. It is easy to see the similarities between biological and electronic types of encoded strands (viruses) that forcibly splice into existing “normal” strands of code (DNA or computer).