A GUIDE TO WHAT TO KNOW
Part 3: WHAT ARE VIRUSES, WHY DO THEY MATTER, WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM?
BY JUDY PARIS, RN, BSN, MSN
The word “virus” has its roots in the Latin
term for “poison.” As the coronavirus
pandemic spreads across the globe, the
term “virus” gets a lot of airplay. But what exactly
are they, and how do they spread?
Viruses are microscopic parasites, much
smaller than bacteria. They lack the capacity
to thrive and reproduce outside of a host body.
Totally dependent on the host cell for the raw
materials and energy for the biochemical activ-ities
that allow the virus to multiply and spread.
In contrast bacteria are alive. A single cell, it
can generate energy and molecules needed to
sustain itself, and reproduce. The vast majority
of the bacteria in the body are rendered harmless
by the protective effects of the immune system,
and some are beneficial. By the way, viruses can
and do infect bacteria! But that’s another story
Has Nucleic acid (RNA in this case), Protein coat, and an Envelope. The Spikes are for atta-ching
to a cell.
for another time!
A virus consists of nucleic acids (its genes)
DNA or RNA, enclosed in a protein coat.
When a virus enters a cell (the host), it sheds
its coat, bares its genes, and tricks the cell to
reproduce the intruder’s DNA or RNA. That’s
how it manufacture more viruses. They then go
on to infect other cells.
There are 2 parts that make up every virus.
(1)The genetic material-its nucleic acid. Some
viruses have ribonucleic acid (RNA) while others
have deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) molecules.
(2) A protein coat. Some also have a membrane
envelope, some, such as Coronavirus parti-cles,
have spiked proteins which hook onto
cell membranes, allowing the virus’s genetic
material to enter the human cell.
Is a Virus Living or Non-Living? The answer is
maybe yes maybe no. Scientists have repeatedly
changed their minds over what viruses are. For
now they are seen as being in a gray area between
living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on
their own but do so in living cells and they can
affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly.
First, viruses need to access the inside of
a host’s body. Respiratory passages and open
wounds can act as gateways for some. They
then attach themselves to host cell surfaces
by recognizing and binding to cell surface
receptors, like two interlocking puzzle pieces.
After a virus binds to the surface of the host
cell, it can move across the outer covering to
enter it. As copies of the virus multiply, they
burst the host cell and infect neighboring cells.
VIRUSES MUTATE, one of the things that
makes them so successful. They are constantly
copying themselves, so it’s rather frequent
that some of those copies will have mistakes.
Coronaviruses are made up of RNA. This
genetic material exists on a single strand,
unlike double-stranded DNA. This allows it
to mutate very quickly. Any cure or vaccine
made for a specific RNA may quickly become
As of May 7, 2020 the speculation about
the effects of mutations are guesses, there is
no iron-clad evidence yet that these muta-tions
have made any one version of the virus
more contagious, deadlier, or more resistant
to potential therapies. This could very well
change as time goes on.
BACTERIA VS VIRAL INFECTIONS AND
TREATMENT: Bacterial and viral infections
are dissimilar in many important ways, most of
them due to the organisms’ structural differ-ences
and the way they respond to medication.
Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot survive with-out
a host. They are not living cells. They can
only reproduce by attaching to cells. In most
cases, they reprogram the cells to make new
viruses. In other cases, they turn normal cells
into malignant cells. Unlike bacteria, most
viruses cause disease, and they’re quite spe-cific
about the cells they attack. Antibiotics
are not effective against them.
TREATMENTS: For most viral infections,
treatments can only help with symptoms
while you wait for the immune system to
fight off the virus. Things are changing so
fast in the search for treatments and vaccines
that by the time you‘re reading this there will
be even newer buzz words and information!
The most important thing in treating any viral
diseases is treating it early or the window
COVID 19 VIRUS AND ITS PARTS
8 NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER ¢ June 2020