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The Life and Times of Viruses: In for the Long Haul

7 mins read

Viruses are hardy little devils. They have been around for more than 30 million years on Spaceship Earth.

Many of humankind’s diseases derive from viruses; if transferred from animals, they are called zoonotic infections. Regardless of the source, viruses have been, and remain, the greatest killers of humankind in our short three million-year history as the genus Homo.

Get the picture?

The primary health information about COVID-19 has focused on the safety and efficacy of the COVID vaccines. It is an incontrovertible fact that these vaccines save lives.

But this reality hasn’t had sufficient impact on folks’ mindsets to convince our unvaccinated friends and neighbors to get “the shot.” In the arena of educating Americans about COVID, we don’t hear much about the virus itself other than this-or-that variant has this-or-that impact on humans.

Maybe it’s time to reflect on the nature of viruses themselves, because they ain’t goin’ away; they’re here for the long haul, kinda like cockroaches. You can’t just wait ‘em out.

Viruses were here eons before our progenitors came to occupy this planet. A very short and superficial science lesson in virology might be helpful in understanding how and why COVID is such a nasty killer.

All true viruses contain nucleic acid, the road map for all cellular replication, either DNA or RNA and protein. Nucleic acid encodes the genetic information unique to each type of virus, which is called the genome. The DNA/RNA of each virus is surrounded by multiple copies of one or a few proteins, which form a capsule around the nucleic acid. The entire infectious virus particle, called a virion, consists of the nucleic acid and its protein outer shell.

The simplest viruses contain only enough DNA/RNA to encode four proteins; the most complex viruses can encode 100-200 proteins. This protein covering is infective, while the virion contains at least one unique protein synthesized by specific genes in the nucleic acid of that particular virus.

Viruses are intra-cellular parasites; they replicate only after invading specific host cells. Viruses can only exist and replicate inside cells of bacteria, plants and animals.

Viral infection begins when proteins on the virion’s surface bind to specific protein receptor sites (attachment areas) on the surface of the host organism’s cells. Then the magic of virus reproduction begins.

After the virion attaches to the specific host receptor sites, it kidnaps and invades the cells of the host. Once there, the virus plants its own DNA/RNA road map into the host’s cells. Once implanted there, the host cell itself becomes a manufacturing plant replicating the virus by the zillions, thus the host becomes a giant “clone” of the virus.

When the virus has reached a certain level of virus concentration, the host begins to shed the virus, a condition characterizing the infected host as “viremic,” which means the host is shedding zillions upon zillions of virus replicates. This action makes the host itself an infectious agent. The massive replications of the virus and the host’s shedding of them creates an infectious Frankenstein clone.

The unvaccinated INFECTED human then directly shares the virus by way of its sneezes, coughs, urinations, defecations, snotty nose, etc. Said infected, unvaccinated human becomes a mobile dispersion bomb of infectious killer viruses on two legs.

Viruses are exceptionally well adapted at making new forms of themselves, with simple mutations (modifications) in their DNA/RNA. This incredible adaptability is why viruses have been with us for more than 30 million years, and also why COVID-19 has created many variations of itself, such as the highly infectious Delta variant that has caused so many deaths in 2021.

So, boys and girls, as with the flu virus, COVID is likely to become a common-place virus that will be among us for a long time to come. Along with our yearly flu vaccinations, which are adjusted annually to immunize the yearly changes in the flu viruses, it won’t be long until we have a yearly COVID vaccine available to go along with the flu.

Once again, I leave you with this clarion call to action: At present, only about 68 percent of adult Americans have received at least one “jab” of vaccine; hardly sufficient to reach the exotic and mythical realm of so-called “herd immunity.” Just a reminder that unvaccinated folks are 10-times more likely to get infected, hospitalized and die than those of us who are vaccinated.

Like many of its virus relatives, COVID-19 will be with humankind for a long time to come. Accept that reality and adjust accordingly. Vaccines for COVID-19 are safe and effective. They save lives.

I beg those of you who remain unvaccinated to reconsider the contribution you can make to the health and safety of your kinsmen/women. Please get vaccinated.

“Well, all I know is what I read in the newspapers.” – Will Rogers. 

David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999 and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate from 2010 to 2015. You can reach him at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

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