How do dangerous viruses like COVID-19 come about?
- Author Yaw Boakye-Yiadom
- Published September 14, 2020
- Word count 742
This year we have witnessed the devastation that viruses can cause. In addition to the numerous mortalities and morbidities that the virus, COVID-19, has caused, it has also brought entire economies to a stand still. In fact, lifestyles have changed because of this virus. Many know viruses cause diseases, but they now want to know more about viruses. They have been seeking answers to the questions that they have. I would be answering a number in this blog post.
A virus is an infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. What this means is that a virus isn't a living thing like a plant or an animal. The smallest unit of an animal or a plant is the cell. Outside a living cell, a virus is more of a particle, an object without life, that does not grow or shrink. However, it does contain genetic material in the form of a DNA or an RNA. As soon as a virus comes into contact with a living cell, it hijacks the living cell and then produces more copies of itself. It is able to transcribe its genetic information when inside a living cell.
We say that a virus is sub-microscopic because it cannot be seen with neither the naked eye nor an ordinary microscope. To see a virus, you need what is called an electron microscope, a powerful microscope capable of magnifying an object 10 million times.
How do dangerous viral diseases like COVID-19 arise?
As we have already said, viruses are only active when inside living cells. Outside a living cell, a virus like HIV cannot live for more than 20 minutes. COVID-19 cannot live outside a living cell for three days. That is how all viruses are.
Some viruses have infected animals in the wild. They haven't caused epidemics and pandemics because no human being has come into contact with any of these animals. The very minute any human being comes into contact with them, an epidemic would most likely break out.
I must say that not all viruses are equally dangerous, and not all of them are transmitted the same way. The human immune system develops immunity to viruses that it has already encountered, so that when it encounters the virus again, it would be able to mount an effective immune response against it. New viruses are dangerous because the body cannot mount an effective immune response against them.
Coronaviruses are present in some birds and bats. It is believed that COVID-19 was acquired from bats.
Viruses make more copies of themselves when inside a living cell. This we have already said. However, as it makes copies of itself it doesn't always do it the same way, because it frequently makes mistakes. Now, when mistakes are made this way, the new viruses created will differ slightly from the parent virus. This phenomenon is called genetic mutation.
That is how new viruses emerge. A virus that has been around for a while, without causing many problems, can suddenly become dangerous when mutation occurs. This may occur in animals or in human beings. It is possible that COVID-19 developed this way. I cannot say for sure that it did, but it is possible.
Engineering of Viruses in the Laboratory
The science of genetics is now so advanced that human beings are able to clone animals and even other human beings in the laboratory. Human beings are able to insert the DNA of one organism into the DNA of another, so that the desirable qualities of one are transferred to another. This has been employed extensively in the development of genetically modified crops.
Scientists conduct several experiments in the laboratory, so that hospitals and health officials will be able to better treat diseases. In the course of these experiments, more dangerous viruses can emerge. This can be deliberate or unintentional. However, the necessary precautions are taken so that these viruses don't escape. COVID-19 could have emerged in this manner.
With the above information, you now know what a virus is and how viruses like COVID-19 emerge. No one knows for certain how it arose, but it was definitely due to at least one of the ways that I have outlined above. Research is on-going. In the next few months, we should have an effective vaccine as well as drugs against the disease. If you want to know how to prevent coronaviruses, visit 10 coronavirus prevention strategies.
Yaw Boakye-Yiadom is an active blogger, critical thinker, and a voracious reader who takes interest in health, computer programming, business, and economics issues. Follow me on twitter @boachsoft. Email: boachsoft at yahoo.com.
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