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Virus Infections

What and Why?

Viruses are among the smallest living things on earth. Some of them are remarkably sophisticated even so, but none carries the apparatus necessary to reproduce itself — only the blueprint for the job. Consequently it is obliged to multiply itself by taking over the reproductive apparatus of an appropriate cell. This constitutes infection, so far as the victim is concerned. What is worse, viruses destroy the cells they use in this way, so that many of the disorders associated with viruses are dangerous to life. Influenza, polio and smallpox are the best known historical examples, but the Human Immunotropic Virus of AIDS, and Hepatitis B, have all our attention at the moment.

The most commonly encountered viruses have a preference for one of two routes of entry to your body: your breathing passages or your intestines. In either case they then fall into two further classes according to whether they remain around the point of entry or tend to spread from there throughout your body. The common cold is a localized respiratory illness, whereas measles, mumps, influenza and chicken pox are generalized ones. Gastro-enteritis is typical of local intestinal diseases, whereas polio, hepatitis-A and ‘gastric ’flu’ spread from the same place to have general effects. This simple classification gives no inkling of the huge diversity within the virus kingdom, but it will probably cover your experience. AIDS and hepatitis-B constitute important exceptions.

People vary a good deal in their resistance to virus attack. The key to this is strong and perfectly formed skin at the points of entry, since viruses which cannot get into the cells of that skin are easy prey for your defensive secretions; and until they penetrate cells, viruses cannot multiply.

Once your resistance is overcome, each virus particle that successfully penetrates a cell takes over its apparatus to make replicas of itself, which is only possible for one virus at a time. After a period of incubation varying from a few days to several weeks, the cell bursts to release many thousands of virus particles, which then each seek a new cell to infect. It does not take long for the destruction to become widespread, a trend prevented only by mobilization of your immune processes. Your general defences maintain a stiff resistance, including a substance called interferon which slows down virus multiplication while specific antibodies are prepared. Their arrival in quantity marks the turning point in your disease, sometimes accompanied by a rash — evidence presumably of the reaction which occurs when antibody and virus combine.

Symptoms then rapidly clear, but tiredness and lack of stamina persist while your effort is diverted into replacing the destroyed cells. They are inconspicuous and thinly spread by comparison with surgical wounds, but cost you just as much effort to repair. Until healed they are weak points in your outer defences, which can easily let in other infection: deterioration in your condition just when you were expecting to recover often means that a bacterial complication has set in. Even if you succeed in warding this off, the increased effort of doing so drains your resources further.

What can I do?

Advice to maintain and maximise health

1. Ventilate rooms well in good weather. Avoid tobacco smoke.

2. During the autumn and winter when people cough a good deal, avoid crowding into confined spaces. Shop at quieter times, preferably on breezy days. Infections are much more easily spread from person to person on foggy damp days with no wind.

3. Breathe through your nose whenever possible. This makes excellent use of the organ specialized for filtration, air conditioning and self-defence, and keeps the passages clean.

4. Dress according to the temperature. Chilling your neck in cold weather can reduce the power of your local defensive lymph glands, and let a sore throat begin.

5. Fresh live raw salads bolster resistance better than preserved, frozen or reheated food. Therefore have some raw carrot, fresh leaves or sproutings daily, especially through the winter (from February to May).

6. Supplements of Vitamin C help your white blood cells defend you. Take a pinch of crystals in a breakfast juice daily, more frequently when under pressure.

7. Garlic is a powerful natural antiseptic. Keep a Garlic Lozenge in your cheek for an hour at a time, on days when your throat feels vulnerable. The scent is minimized if you avoid chewing or bruising it.

8. Live within your energetic means. Otherwise well defended people are much more prone to infection when they over-work. Moving house is an especially difficult time.

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