What is a Virus?

Viruses are everywhere. They cause illnesses like COVID-19, the common cold, and influenza. At the same time, some harmoniously coexist with us, helping us fight dangerous pathogens.

So, how do we protect ourselves against harmful viruses and take advantage of the good ones? As the world recovers from COVID-19, we need to boost our immunity and knowledge to safeguard our health further.

What is a Virus? 

A virus is a microscopic infectious microbe that only exists, multiples, and replicates inside a living host. They fall into various categories, each with its own size, shape, and genetic information. Every virus has its unique nature and can exist in the living cells of humans, animals, plants, and even bacteria. 

Viruses are responsible for the worst outbreaks and deaths throughout history. For example, a recently discovered coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 caused the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, infecting tens of millions of people and killing a small number of them. 

Although several viruses are known for their infectious and destructive nature, not all of them are bad foreign intruders. Some beneficial viruses can fight and kill their deadly counterparts! Trillions of harmless viruses inhabit our bodies, keeping us alive, well, and immune from bacterial pathogens. 

How Does a Virus Spread?

Viruses enter our bodies through the skin, eyes, nose, and mouth. They multiply the moment they get inside us and may immediately outnumber the protective antibodies in our immune system. 

A virus adheres to the surface of its target cell to inject its genetic material. Then, it creates many copies of itself and “hides” from the immune system. This results in cell death and the infection of the many other nearby cells. 

As the virus multiplies, more and more cells can be affected, leading to infection and illness. Symptoms start to show up when the infection has already damaged several body cells. 

Once the immune system recognizes the infection, it releases antibodies to fight and weaken the germs. In addition, immune cells remember disease-causing pathogens even after recovery. Thus, they are more likely to respond effectively upon reinfection. But that doesn’t mean we’ll always be safe. Viruses mutate and can evade our immune systems and available treatments.

How Do Viruses Mutate?

Viruses, like humans, plants, and animals, evolve and adapt to different environments. As the virus multiplies, it undergoes a series of errors that changes its genetic code. These genetic mutations allow them to quickly move from host to host, attach better to the surface of human cells, and reproduce quickly.

A visualization of viruses

Although mutation may boost the virus’s rate of severity and transmission, it can also make viruses more vulnerable. In some instances, mutations lead to longer reproduction rates. 

Viral mutations can be deadly and escape the immune system’s defenses. For example, COVID-19’s Omicron BA.5 variant, the most dominant strain globally, can evade natural and vaccine immunity. The influenza virus also changes quickly, so getting a flu shot each year is essential.

Viruses change and spread constantly. Besides boosting your immune system naturally, it’s important to get vaccinated. When a large percentage of the community is vaccinated, there are lower chances of infection and mutation.

How Do Vaccines Protect You?

Our immune system protects us from infection by launching an attack against invading pathogens. If that same germ invades again, it’ll quickly send antibodies to defend your body. This is called natural immunity, or protection acquired from actual disease infection. 

Natural immunity is long-lasting, but getting vaccinated can fight infections more effectively. Getting flu shots yearly can protect you from the strain expected to spread that season. Moreover, getting COVID-19 booster shots is crucial, as natural immunity can wane in around 90 days. COVID-19 vaccine immunity lasts longer, with two of the most popular brands reporting a six-month efficacy

Since vaccines are made of small amounts of weak or dead germs, they can spark an immune response without making you sick. The antibodies stay in our bloodstream for quite a while, giving us immunity to future infections and diseases. 

Doctor giving patient vaccine

COVID-19 vaccines protect us against known circulating variants or viral genomes with multiple mutations. Vaccines can’t prevent the spread of infection of newly emerged variants, but they can still lower the chances of hospitalization and death. That’s why getting vaccinated is beneficial, even if you still end up getting sick. It’ll help to shorten the duration of your illness and also lessen the severity of your symptoms.

Today, scientists, medical professionals, and public health experts monitor virus mutations and strains in circulation to see how well vaccines work and improve their effect on people.

Boost Your Immune Response to Fight Deadly Viruses

The constant exposure to different viruses helps our immune systems evolve and deal with other strains and mutations. But how well the vaccines and our immune system respond depends heavily on how we care for ourselves daily. Boost and support your immunity by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. That way, you help nurture beneficial viruses in your body and keep your immune system working properly. 

Beyond that, make sure you stay on top of your vaccine schedule so that you can protect yourself and those around you.

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Jonathan Baktari MD

Jonathan Baktari, MD brings over 20 years of clinical, administrative and entrepreneurial experience to lead the current e7 Health team. He has been a triple board-certified physician with specialties in internal medicine, pulmonary and critical care medicine. He has been the Medical Director of The Valley Health Systems, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Culinary Health Fund and currently is the CEO of two healthcare companies.
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