virus, infections, swine flu etc – FAQ/basics

This post of the illustrious  Swine Flu series deals with the basics, to give a reasonable grounding on the fascinating life forms called viruses as also some relevant details of Swine Flu.

It would be useful, if you could read the posts / articles that are given in an order in:  FAQs & HowTos: health, body, soul…

This is in a Q & A form like the other posts in the series.

What is a virus?

Viruses are cutesy, fascinating life forms. They are nothing to be afraid of.  Don’t worry. They don’t even dress up like an Aamir Khan in Ghajini. (Ghajini is a sad & tragic Hindi language remake of Christopher Nolan’s Memento; believe me, there are some very good films and film makers from India!)

Seriously, viruses are those wonderful subcellular entities that are capable of assembling themselves from their raw mateials. It is like, if someone hacked away my body parts (someone just might, given the sarcastic naure of the blog posts) – then by some magic, I could reassemble myself. MAGIC!

Not only that, Viruses can replicate themselves and multiply endlessly. They can change some of their characteristics along the way. They can borrow characteristics from other fellow viruses. They somehow seem to ‘know’ that they have to exchange genetic materials with other fellows, to ensure their own species diversity and survival! We actually have to learn a thing or two from viruses, I tell you!

But the conditions have to be suitable for them to go plug themselves onto hosts from whom to derive raw materials, and thrive. They can’t make their own raw materials.

These happy go lucky viruses incidentally use our bodies (among others) to get their raw materials so that they can ‘go forth and multiply.’  They must have read The Bible too, I think…

In the process of propagating themselves, they may weaken their hosts. That’s where the myths and the horror start. I meant the rumours, actually.

Can I have a little bit more information on viruses and how they are constructed?

Sure. Viruses are non cellular life forms that have RNA or DNA (both generally referred to as the basic building blocks of life) within a protective sheath of some protein. They feed off cells/ bacteria and do all the things in the previous answer.

Two examples of how a virus is structured to feed off a cell /  bacterium (host) and how they propagate, after entering a host are provided below.

virus1

The above scanned image and the one below have  been ‘borrowed’ from one of my alltime favourtite books –  Godel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid – by Douglas R Hofstadter.

virus2

I suppose, both images are lucid and self explanatory.

What is Influenza??

This is a viral infection that is common in birds and mammals; human beings get infected by it too. In a normal year (for a given value of ‘normal’) approximately 40,000 people die of complications involving among others, Influenza viruses, in USA alone. This Influenza is not even called an epidemic in spite of these kinds of numbers/casualty, leave alone them being a flash in the pandemic!

What is this Flu? Flew? What?

It is nothing but a shortened form of Influenza, period.

What is this Swine Flu, then?

As I mentioned earlier, these viruses are capable of borrowing notes and stuff from other friendly & conniving viruses.

Mammals and Birds have been having their own virus infections (belonging to the Influenza family); at some point, nearly 100 years back, due to contact with human beings, the original flu viruses which then were only with Pigs ‘learnt’ and mutated to infect human beings. Still that infection could spread only from Pigs to human beings; now, lately, these fascinating viruses have learnt to move from human being to human being… This is the reason for all the hoopla. By itself it is not dangerous – which fact we shall elaborate upon further down this post.

So, how come we are getting affected?

See, our human immune systems do not readily recognize these new strains. So, if the immune systems are already compromised by our bad lifestyles, then they cannot handle this virus at all.But if they are not badly compromised then, the body can learn to deal with this new virus-kid on the block – with the help of that impossible pharmaceutical factory that our brain is!

Oh, that’s why people die, if they are infected by the Swine Flu virus?

Huh?

Viruses, after ‘infecting’ the hosts, will normally weaken and look for other ‘learning opportunities’ so to say. They are also not interested in killing their hosts as that will jeopardize their own survival and their own propagation (it is amazing that the survival ‘instincts’ are available in a few DNA strands or RNA in a give virus!)

While it is possible that the A(H1N1) virus could mutate and could become a dangerous virus, it is also possible for it to weaken and become mild. Typically the latter happens, as it was with the SARS and Bird Flu.There is no special or specific reason for the viruses to behave otherwise.

As of now, the Swine Flu Virus is not dangerous at all, anyway.

At this juncture, I would like to point to a great popular science article by David Fraser Harris: A Chemical Basis of Life. This lyrical 1912 article is available online. Enjoy!

When are we likely to know the final verdict?

What do you mean?

As I have been saying, Swine Flu Virus is still mild and no life has been lost ONLY because of the virus. It is likely to weaken and become milder and scope itself out, with the human beings as a species, developing immunity for it.

In my opinion, it could take uptill 2010 to get to know how we are faring – if the mAss media hasn’t already weakened the population by their manipulative fear-mongering, that is.

I am not very confident – what if there is this runaway mutation of the virus?

Your question is quite paranoid, but I would still answer that.

You should understand and realize that we are always surrounded by undesirable things like viruses, bacteria, and fungi – not to speak of the Cell phone signals, TV Chatter, ambient noises and Times of India!

And, these viruses / bacteria / fungi could be pathogenic to us or may not be. Even if they are pathogenic, it all depends on their virulence, and most importantly, our ability (immunity and level-headedness) to face them.  There could be various combinations of these competing forces.

You should also understand that UNLESS we are frequently / periodically exposed to the pathogens (except TV & Times of India), our bodies would not know how to deal with them. You would be surprised to hear that even as I type this and even as you read my posts, your body – that fantastically designed pharmaceutical factory of your own – is learning and devising ways to survive, sustain and grow.

Further, the history of virus mutations and the self preserving & propagating nature of these little forms of life, will dictate that they become less virulent over a period of time as they go from host to host, even as the human beings develop effective systems to handle them – without us EVER noticing what’s going on!

The runaway mutation and ghastly destruction of humanity by a Virus, typically happens or threatens to happen only in badly written science fiction & in films or in the mouths of half-baked jackasses in the field – especially those TV experts and clueless doctors (not all of the latter, though).

But still, can you elaborate on the varieties of reactions in or bodies that the Swine Flu Virus prompts – you were talking about the ‘combinations of the competing forces’? And, may be I will decide what is likely to happen to me!

I really appreciate your curiosity. This combined with hope and optimism, will see that you and your loved ones will ‘go forth and multiply!’.

There are many levels of reaction in our bodies that will be the direct results of invasions from any pathogen – including this particular Swine Flu Virus… Let us handle them one by one:

  • You may be a completely healthy (both physically and mentally) person with a positive outlook on life (is there a difference between health & optimism?); in this case, since you are obviously a person with significant immunity, your body/brain will deal with it, with you not even NOTICING that some virus is being appropriately handled. In other words, you will be healthy as usual and nothing will happen. Boring, eh?
  • You could be a healthy person but may suffer from occasional immune problems. Your body and mind are not in exact congruence. You are given to bouts of unhappiness. The body is not able to quickly respond with alacrity. You see a lot of TV. In this case you may have some reaction to the infection, it could even be significant, but you would recover.
  • You could be not a very healthy person. And you may have compromised immune systems. You may be very unhappy about life & what it has meted out to you. You may be repeatedly falling ill, while not in turn developing immunity. You may see a lot of TV and to top it, may even regularly read Times of India too, the horror. the horror! So you will go on to have chronic illnesses and show symptoms like Heart problems, Asthma, Skin problems, the works. If you could recover from the virus (or any other pathogen) attack, then it will take months or even years for you to get back to the normal mode. (you may remember  about Dengue and Chikungunya, which have these kinds of lasting and lovely impact!)
  • You are in real ill health. You watch a lot of ‘breaking news’ and revel in seeing and discussing disasters. You only read the gossip columns in Times of India – which means, everything else in that darned paper except the Crossword puzzle.You feel that the world is a treacherous place and others are out to get you. You hate life and happiness. Your body cooperates with your mindset. So you would have no ability (read: reason) to respond to pathogens. You have a significantly compromised immune system and suffer from a combination of cardiac, digestive, breathing and renal problems. (Get Will soon – that is, be prepared to please write a Will soon!)

I think we should map ourselves to one of the four levels or somewhere in between and work ourselves upwards, without giving up…

Life is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You know that there are various kinds of pathogens that float around us all the time  – and there are SOOOOOO many people who can potentially get all these illnesses. Then think about these paradoxical situation, as to how & why only a very few get the illnesses?

Actually it is NOT paradoxical at all.

Go on, get a life. A healthier one at that!

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Other swine flu & health related posts are here:  FAQs & HowTos: health, body, soul…

An interesting & clueful web article – The Reality of the Swine Flu was a major ‘inspiration’ for some parts of this faq, and is acknowledged with thanks.

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