With Ebola and Enterovirus D68 in the news as of late, it’s important to get down to the basics.
Wash your hands, folks!
What is a virus?
A virus is a tiny infectious particle that needs a host cell (animal, bacteria, or plant) to survive.
How do viruses infect humans?
Viruses can enter a human host cell through, for example, the nose, mouth, or a break in the skin. The virus then attaches to a host cell (i.e. respiratory tract, digestive system, immune system, etc.) and injects its genetic material. The host cell has enzymes, which are substances that act as catalysts, which help make particles to make the virus multiply. These viral components then break away from the host cell or destroy it and are capable of infecting other cells in the body.
How does the body react?
Our immune system helps attack these viruses by producing chemicals called pyrogens. Pyrogens increase our body temperature and may cause a fever. A fever helps us fight the infection by slowing down viral reproduction.
How can viruses spread?
Depending on the specific virus, they can spread by:
1. a carrier organism (i.e. mosquito)
2. air droplets
3. direct transfer of bodily fluids (i.e. saliva, sweat, blood, feces, etc.)
4. surfaces where bodily fluids have dried
How to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting a virus?
1. Cover your mouth/nose when you cough or sneeze (preferably using the elbow, not your hands)
2. Wash your hands properly and frequently
3. Avoid contact with bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces
Treatment of Viruses
The mainstay of treatment of most viruses is supportive treatment; making sure that you get plenty of fluids and rest. Antibiotics do not have any effect on viruses so they are not beneficial. Some viruses do respond to certain anti-viral medications.
Potential Prevention of Viruses
Vaccination if available for the particular virus.
There are many different viruses that can potentially infect humans. The way they are spread depends on the particular virus. The severity of disease can range from mild (i.e. a simple common cold) to severe (i.e. Ebola). In a world full of these pesky agents, all we can do is protect ourselves and our loved ones as much as we can by following proper hand hygiene, avoiding contact with infected bodily fluids (if the virus is spread in that fashion), and getting vaccinated (if vaccine is available) according to CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and your physician’s recommendations.
For more information on proper hand washing techniques:
For more information on vaccination schedules:
Laura Soto, D.O.
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