In the great scheme of things in the universe, we do have some things which help us against these tiny pests.
For one thing, we have some “built-in” protections of our own. Our skin, and the mucous membranes which are inside your body openings, are very effective in preventing viruses from getting right inside, you where they can get at your interior cells.
Then, when cells are injured by viruses, they often release substances which are antiviral in nature and white blood cells (which eat bacteria and other foreign materials) to get into your blood.
And sometimes, the “host” cells are made to produce “interferon,” which often stops the virus from reproducing.
Another of your built-in responses is your immune system. Many viruses trigger an immune reaction—the production of antibodies, which are designed specifically to combat the invaders.
These immune responses are set off by coming in contact with the virus itself. Mothers’ milk may contain a lot of these antibodies if she, herself, has been exposed to some of the deadly viruses.
The major medical response to viruses is to develop vaccines. And this isn’t as new as you might think. Edward Jenner, in 1798, took note of the fact that people who got a case of cowpox (a relatively mild disease) did not get smallpox (a deadly one).
He injected a small amount of cowpox material into a young man, who never got smallpox for the rest of his life. And that was the first safe vaccination for a viral infection.
Many safe vaccines already are in use. Smallpox, once a major killer, is now almost a rarity in the development world.
Many of you will remember the fear of poliomyelitis (polio) and its terrible effects. But the vaccine developed by Dr. Salk, and others, have nearly eliminated this disease from North America.
Many others have been brought under control, but no one has found the magic cure for the common cold—one of our most frustrating diseases.
One viral infection, widely talked about recently, is the papilloma family. This is a large family, and contains the viruses which cause warts, cold sores, throat growths, and at least six types which cause lesions on the genitals.
More than 15,000 women in the U.S. got cervical cancer in 2006—at least 80 percent of which were linked to the papilloma virus.
Getting a vaccine ready for the public is not easy. First, you have to find it, isolate it, and identify it. Then you have to find a way of killing it, and then testing—testing—testing, in animals, and finally in humans.
It is a very lengthy, and expensive, process.
But the future looks pretty good, as far as antiviral agents are concerned. Perhaps the most promising is the chemical production of interferon. This is being worked on all over the world.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of suggestions for you.
(1). Cleanliness and hygiene. Wash your hands a lot. Be as hygienic as you can.
(2). If you have a viral infection, don’t bother your doctor about antibiotics. They don’t work on viruses. If he does give you some, it is only to shut you up.
(3). Those ads on TV which say you can get all your viruses out of your kitchen with a spray—don’t believe a word of it! It doesn’t work, and they would have no way of proving it even if it did.
Nature, Science & You logo