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Viral infections

Majid Ali, M.D.

Viruses are infectious agents that live and multiply inside the cells of their hosts. Most of them cannot be seen directly with ordinary (common light) microscopes, the average virus being one one-hundredth the size of common bacteria. Viruses are the most abundant forms of life and inhabit nearly all ecosystems on the planet Earth. They infect all types of organisms- humans, animals, plants, even bacteria. There are millions of different types of viruses, about 5,000 of which have been described in detail. Virology is the study of viruses and is considered as a sub-speciality of microbiology.

Viruses are pure intelligence. They do not breathe. They do not metabolize. They do not create any waste that one can write about. They have no gender issues. They do not have sex, yet they proliferate effortlessly to produce progeny by the millions. Viruses are survivors. When threatened, they are a marvel of biology in designing strategies for coping with threats to their survival. In the ultra-microscopic particle of viruses, I see an enduring master stroke of Nature's ingenuity.

The Basic Structure of Viruses

A virus particle is known as virion and in most cases consists of three parts: (1) DNA or RNA as its genetic material; (2) a protective protein coat; and (3) another protective coat (envelope) composed of lipids that surround the protein coat (often when they exist outside cells. The shapes of viruses can be simple ( helical, for example) or complex structures. I offer detailed anatomy of the bird flu virus as an illustrated example in my book "The Rooster, the Flu, and the Imperial Medicine of the New Empire" (2006).

The story of viruses in modern times began with the discovery in 1892 by Dmitri Ivanovsky of a non-bacterial agent that infected tobacco plants. Six years later, Martinus Beijerinck isolated the tobacco mosaic virus.

An Ecologic Perspective of Viruses

In 2006, in "The Rooster, the Flu, and the Imperial Medicine of the New Empire," I offered a personal view of the rightful place of viruses. Below are two paragraphs from that volume:

Nature has no use for doctors' notions of fixedness in human biochemistry. In the eternal predator-prey dance of life and death. Nature confers biochemical redundancy for its creations for survival advantages, but only up to a point. When its creatures veer off the assigned course beyond the limits of equilibrium, Nature plays its other cards to restore that equilibrium. Humans have freedom to alter ecologic conditions up to certain limits. Beyond those limits, Nature's lowly life forms—viruses, in present context—are given the responsibility of bringing down the house of cards of haughty humans. In the case of the bird flu, Nature's corrective action is sometimes implemented with seemingly trivial changes in the structure of one of the viral proteins. Substitution of a single amino acid in the protein configuration, for instance, can turn a docile virus into a screaming monster.

The flu virus, for example, is a mere thread of RNA with a protein envelope. One of my most humbling experiences was when I first reflected on the killing ability of such a simple creature. We humans have 30,000 or more genes and an estimated 100,000 proteins, all of which are dedicated to the survival of our species. We also have a brain and a mind for which we never tire of congratulating ourselves. There is no surprise here about the origin of the human hubris and the notion that we are God's greatest creation. Then along comes a lowly virus from within the bowel of some bird to kill nearly 100 million of humans in the 1918 'Spanish' flu! What can one make of that?

Man-Microbe Harmony and Discord

In the natural order, harmony and discord play concurrently in the eternal life and death drama of predation. In the predator-prey interactions, life begets death and death begets life. Nature has its own designs for the hunter-hunted games. It has its own order that determines when the hunters become the hunted, and when the hunted turn into hunters. In the incompletely known story of the family of flu viruses we get many glimpses into the 'Grand Web' of webs that Nature weaves, seemingly to please no one but itself. This preoccupation of Nature with complementarity and contrariety in life fascinates me. A failure to understand that, in my view, is the primary reason behind mismanagement of the viral (and other types of) infections by physicians.

 

Virology Articles

* Infectious Diseases

* Virology

* Viral Infections

* Ebola Virus

* Ebola Outbreak 2014

* Dengue Fever Part One

* Dengue Fever Part Two

* Introduction to Inflammation and Immunity

* What Is Inflammation?

* Infectious Diseases

* Castor Oil Rubs for Colicky Babies and Children

Sesame Oil: Why Is It One of My Darlings?

*  Anti-Inflammatory Spice Therapies for Arthritis

Anti-Inflammatory Topical Oil Therapies for Arthritis

* LAPs and TAPs Determine the Outcome in Infections Everywhere in the Body

 

 

 

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