Understanding Virus: For non-biologists

It is extremely hard for most of us to understand how something we cannot see or feel has brought the entire world to a stand still. The main aim of the virus is #wanderlust. It uses the host as a means of travel (vector) to go around the globe! Let's understand this piece of nature in detail — The Virus.

What is a Virus?

Credits: Ameobasisters
Credits: Ameobasisters

In the simplest words, the virus is a bridge between the living and non-living worlds. It acts as a non-living particle outside the host (Bacteria, Animal, plants or Human cells) and as a living structure inside the host.

How is this possible?

Virus, at the microscopic level, is nothing but a small piece of genetic material (DNA or RNA) protected by a protein capsule. Consider viruses to be like an empty kitchen (protein capsule) with a recipe book (DNA or RNA) but no ingredients to cook. It needs to borrow all the required ingredients from someone else. Hence, it cannot perform all the “life activities” by itself. It needs support from an external source to be able to multiply and sustain a “life”. This external source is the host cell. The virus makes its way inside the host cell by hacking into the immune system and very articulately gets integrated into the host cell as if it was always a part of it! This process is called “infection”. Now, this brings us to the life cycle of the virus: the virus has two types of life cycles. It is quite simple to understand them barring their complex names!

In the first scenario consider the cell to be a polythene bag and the virus to be lentils. If you keep filling the bag it will eventually break open, destroying the bag and spilling the lentils everywhere. This is the Lytic cycle. The second scenario is much like boarding a bus and being seated peacefully in it until you reach the destination which is known Lysogenic cycle. These are the life “cycles” of the virus and these cycles repeat until the immune system brings it to a halt.

Now that we know how the virus is equipped, we know how to attack it! But before that let's see how our body fights the virus naturally.

Immunity against Virus

Whenever the body is attacked by a virus, it does not immediately make a person sick. It takes some time to perform the “life” cycles explained above for them to multiply and grow their number. The time taken to make a person sick is called the “incubation time”. Once the virus starts to break open or kill the cells, our immune system recognizes that a foreign particle has entered. The body then prepares to fight it by producing a strong army of war heroes that are dedicated to protecting us. A virus triggers the production of something called the T cells, Natural killer cells, antibodies and few other hard named immune cells. These cells come together to provide the infected person with the immunity to fight the viral infection. Therefore, a strong immune system plays a key role in killing the virus and restoring health.

What happens to the virus outside the host cell?

The virus has the ability to stay “alive” outside the host cell for several hours to even days. The strong protective coat enables the virus to survive even in unfavorable conditions. This is what makes the virus unique. Its ability to survive in familiar and unfamiliar environments is ambiguous. Viruses cannot “die” simply because they are not alive in the first place. The surfaces on which the virus stays are called “fomites”. To prevent infection we need to know how to handle fomites in a hygienic way.

How to inactivate the virus?

Credits: Vox

Heat: For years we have used heat as one of the effective disinfecting methods. The same can be used in the case of viruses. All the raw food and milk can be cooked well before consumption to completely destroy the virus.

Soap: Detergents and soaps have the ability to disintegrate the strongest part of the viral particle — the capsule. The soap molecule has two parts: a head and a tail. The tail attaches to the viral proteins on the capsule and tears it apart into fragments. So wash all the packets and bottles that come into your house.

Sanitizers: It is nothing but 50–80% of alcohol solution in a gel base or water base. Alcohol slowly seeps into the virus and causes the proteins to combine with each other making them ineffective. For all the non-edible things that you cannot heat or wash, just disinfect them with a sanitizer. Using vodka or beer can get the virus drunk but it won't kill it!

Understanding the virus is not as difficult as it seems to be. For every one of us who is not well aware of the seriousness of the current situation and the spread of COVID-19, it becomes the responsibility of every learned person to spread the word of awareness. I understand that we cannot see it or exactly feel its presence until we or our loved ones are infected, it becomes difficult to accept the fact that it exists. But for the greater good, we should place our trust in science to help us get over this pandemic.

Just disinfect and keep your immunity strong. We shall overcome this.

Stay home, stay safe.