I’ve been sick for more than a week. I blame my students for passing on the nasty virus, but in reality, I could have picked up the virus anywhere.
Viruses, such as an influenza (flu), common cold and more, use our bodies as hosts to replicate more of themselves until our immune systems can find them, mark them and destroy them. This process can be quick or in my most recent case, take too long. And being sick is bad for the environment — literally, the tissues I’ve used in the past few days could fill up a dumpster.
There are thousands of different types of viruses all made up of an outer membrane (capsid) and inner genetic material. You feel sick based on what type of cell the specific virus is attacking. Most cold viruses attack the nose and throat, while human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) attacks your white blood cells which are responsible for your immunity. Viruses, just like bacteria, are always changing. Mutations in a viruses’ genetic material can alter the viruses’ ability to infect its host. A mutation may help the virus survive or may hurt it. Viruses, unlike bacteria, cannot be treated with antibiotics. You’re left to let the virus run its course and hope your immune system kicks in quick. It’s best to limit the environmental factors that can reduce your immunity such as stress, malnutrition and dehydration.
How do viruses persist in the environment? It depends on the virus. In the case of West Nile Virus, the virus lives mostly in birds as a reservoir host and is transmitted to humans and other species by mosquitoes, the vector. In Texas, it’s important to eliminate the pools of water available for mosquitoes to breed even in the winter time. Our weather has variable warm days allowing mosquitos to emerge in winter months. Even watering your lawn can create enough moisture for mosquitoes to breed. I’d rather have less West Nile Virus, than green grass.
“Influenza A and B viruses can persist on both nonporous and porous environmental surfaces for hours to days depending on a variety of human and environmental factors (humidity, temperature, etc.)” from flu.gov. The transmission happens when you touch the surface with your hand and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Cleaning surfaces can reduce the prevalence of viruses, yet, the strong cleaners we thought we once needed for everything, may not be needed for everyday use. Flu.gov recommends cleaning areas with soap and water first to remove dirt and debris to increase the effectiveness of disinfection. For disinfection, the “influenza viruses can be inactivated by many low- or intermediate-level disinfectants” containing one of the 12 recommended ingredients such as alcohol.
The best way to avoid getting the flu this season, get a flu vaccine. The vaccine is a way to build your body’s antibodies to the virus so when you do come into contact with the flu, your immune system can jump into action right away, sometimes without you even noticing symptoms. But remember, viruses are constantly changing, and there are thousands of different kinds of viruses. Scientists use data to estimate which strand of the flu will be most prevalent in the upcoming season and prep vaccines accordingly. Unfortunately, sometimes a different strand spreads quickly. Either way, less people getting sick means less people spreading the virus.
Although my recent viral infection has given me a bad attitude towards viruses, they aren’t all bad. Viruses do have a positive importance in our world; such as new studies are being done incorporating viruses into medicine and viruses being used as pest control.
If you’re like me and suffered the wrath of a tiny microscopic virus this flu season, take heed knowing it will pass. Take the opportunity to try some sustainable soups like squash, and of course, the standby chicken soup, just up your ingredients to free range organic to make them better for our environment. And soon, you’ll join me back in our everyday lives, hoping to not encounter another viral nightmare.
As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly.