How Viruses Work: Show Concern, Not Fear

This post is an OPINION.  Although the author tries to provide content based on facts, every reader is strongly encouraged  to do their own research.  The author is not an expert.     

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declares COVID-19 a pandemic.

I am staring at the world in disbelief, as everyone races to stockpile hand-sanitizer, wash their hands excessively, cover themselves in gloves and masks, as well as distant themselves socially.  It’s as if the entire world has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder!

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Hi Brains!!  How are you holding up?  Hope all is well!  

As a person with OCD, who has asthma, with children with asthma….
I am extremely concern, but not technically afraid.  Which is strange…

Generally, my OCD contamination fears would be kicking in about right now, but for the moment, I am okay.  Maybe, it’s the mom in me, overriding my OCD brain.  For that mom’s have a super-power of not showing fear in times of crisis.   Perhaps it’s knowing a bit of biology and having an understanding about how viruses work that ease my OCD brain, allowing me to reassure others that the world will be okay.

To be honest, I am more afraid of people irrationally panicking than I am of the actual virus.

Why Is The Public In A Panic

It is unsettling to a person with an OCD brain, to see those (normal brains) who we rely on for reassurance, go into panic mode.

In my opinion, the public is in a panic, because we are being told facts that are difficult to understand without a medical or science degree.  Scientists are notorious for not explaining things in layman’s terms (simple, to the point, easy to understand terms).

Unfortunately, the experts don’t have to time to explain it and the media doesn’t have time to understand it – they just report the facts.  And facts and statistics without further explanation can be scary and often times misunderstood, potentially, creating panic and fear.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

-Albert Einstein

Show Concern, Not Fear

I totally agree with the experts, that we should show concern, not fear. In my opinion, based on personal experiences battling OCD contamination fears, is that knowledge is a strong foundation for reassurance.  

Unfortunately, the media seems to be pushing statistical facts, without providing further information, onto a society who lacks general knowledge of viruses.  I mean, it’s not like everyone took high-school biology.  In fact, most of our knowledge about viruses come from apocalyptic movies that deal with zombies or spy movies.  Last night, I watched Hobbs & Shaw (Fast & Furious) movie, which was entirely about saving the world from a deadly virus that, Ryan Reynolds, so elegantly put it, “melts your insides.”

So, in effort to reduce fear, I want to share with you what I know about viruses.  Of course, I am not an expert and I do encourage you to do your own research.

Our Bodies Got This

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a serious and “potentially” dangerous virus; but in my opinion, doesn’t seem to be no more serious and potentially dangerous than any other virus on planet Earth.

Not to worsen fears, but did you know that viruses are the most abundant microbes on the planet (like billions of them) and that there is an estimate of 320,000 viruses that can infect mammals (that includes us humans)?

If that is true, why are we not constantly sick?
Well, although my microbiology is a bit rusty,  the simple answer is that the human body is AMAZING!

Although some viruses spread much easier than others, it still takes a lot of work for viruses to make healthy individuals sick, especially, if we take precautions like practicing good hygiene, washing our hands, and keeping ourselves distant from sick people.  In the event, we do get sick, symptoms are generally mild, even if we feel absolutely horrible, which is all thanks to our bad-ass immune system!!

Many people think when the body gets sick, it just gave up and the immune system is compromised, but that is FAR from the truth.  In fact, all viruses have the potential to do some pretty nasty harm, but it is our amazing immune system that ensures symptoms are not as bad as they could be…

What Is A Virus:  Extremely Short Basic General Version

The following is my understanding regarding viruses based on biology classes taken many-many moons ago…okay, throw in an extra moon or two in there for good measure.

Viruses are non-living things, meaning, they cannot live or reproduce (spread) on their own.

Viruses need to infect the cells of living organisms (such as us) to survive.  This is because, living cells are metabolic power-houses that constantly produce cells within the body.  Our body is made up of trillions upon trillions of cells which are constantly making new cells to replace old cells.  It’s absolutely fascinating!

If a virus cannot get inside a living organism, they slowly die or basically become “inactive.”  Scientists use the word “inactive” instead of “dead,” because viruses are non-living things and only living things can technically die.  I know, scientists are so technical.

So, viruses pretty much lay around all day waiting for a host (us) to pick it up and IF and only IF (because the body has lots of different defense mechanisms) they do get inside, they must then face an army of fierce defenders called, white blood cells.  Good luck! 

White-blood cells (among other things) play a major role in our immune system, for that they attack and destroy foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.  Unfortunately, not all first attacks are successful, for that a virus may overwhelm our immune system and become successful in attaching to our cells.  Once they attach to our cells, they assume full control of the cell and start to make copies of themselves (reproduce and spread)- which then, makes us sick.

However, even then, it is short lived (duration of illness), as the body has many other defense mechanisms in place to help fight against a virus attack.  Such a cool defense mechanism is a fever, where the body purposely heats up in attempt to fry the suckers (the virus).  That essentially, levels the playing field, eliminating enough of the virus, for the white-blood cells to finish off the job.  This is when we start to feel better.

 

Antibodies & Vaccines

Now, although we are feeling amazing, getting back to work, and enjoying life again, our body isn’t finished yet with the virus- no way!  

Our body then, produces antibodies, which are like little battle ships that lay and wait for the next attack from the same virus.

Antibodies contain specific indentification information (like a warrant poster) that helps them quickly identify and destroy the virus in the event it comes back.

It is my understanding that antibodies become the first line of defense against an old enemy (a previous virus), where they fight off the virus while the calvary (white blood cells) make their way to the battle field.  This is why, symptoms are generally less severe the second go around with a virus.  The more times a virus attacks the more antibodies are produced to prevent future infection- eventually producing immunity.  Essentially, this is how vaccines work.

Vaccines contain a tiny bit of “inactive” or super-duper weak viruses that signals the body to create antibodies to help boost the immune system.  If your body has ever encountered the virus before, additional antibodies from the vaccine, generally do a good job at preventing having the illness again.  However, if your body encounters the virus for the first time after getting a vaccine, you may still get sick, but the symptoms will always be less severe than it would be without antibodies (vaccines).

Because many people do not understand how antibodies produced by vaccines work, they often refuse to get a flu vaccine, because they have heard of people still getting sick despite being vaccinated.

To them, they believe vaccines don’t work.  However, those who do get sick after being vaccinated, may have never been infected with the virus before, so they don’t have the extra antibodies from a previous encounter to join ranks with the antibodies produced from the vaccine.  Also, not all antibodies stick around forever either.  Some vaccines offer a life-time immunity whereas others are just good for about +/- 10 years.

In short, it takes a lot for a virus to get us down.  In fact, our body does all the hard work.  It is our job to take the necessary (don’t go crazy) precautions to avoid getting sick.

COVID-19

Now, that we know a little bit about viruses in general, lets talk about COVID-19…..

First, COVID-19 is not a zombie apocalypse virus.  According to the CDC, which by the way, I believe to be the most accurate source of information regarding all kinds of viruses, states COVID-19 is a “respiratory virus” that may (not always) cause pneumonia, similar to the flu.  Ugh, the yucky flu!

Viruses often mutate into different versions of itself, producing different “strains,” in effort to survive.  Not all mutations are successful for that some mutations are weaker than others, but occasionally, they may mutate into a strain that has the potential to pack a powerful punch (such as COVID-19).

COVID-19 is 1 of 7 different strains of the virus called, “coronavirus.”

Although 4 strains of the coronavirus are nothing more than a common-cold (which everyone is expected to get at some point during their lifetime), it also has 3 other nastier versions of itself: MERS, SARS, and now COVID-19, which is a version of the first SARS outbreak.  These nastier versions (mutations/strains) of the coronavirus, cause severe respiratory issues; thus, it is important to try to stop the spread of them.

It is my understanding and opinion, that COVID-19 is extremely serious, because it poses a large health risk to those who have weak immune systems and/or underlying conditions that may cause complications.   The word “complication,” generally means, “making symptoms worse.”   The more severe that symptoms become, the more difficult it is for the body to fight off the virus.

Those who are generally healthy, may experience (if any) mild symptoms similar to the flu.

COVID-19 GAME PLAN

How do we stop the spread of a virus (whether it be COVID-19 or any other virus)?   Well, we quarantine, practice social distancing, and practice good hygiene.

The general idea is to not spread the virus to others.  The virus that is left hanging around on surfaces and people’s hands, are either washed away, disinfected, or left alone long enough to become “inactive,” and thus, not able to reproduce and spread.  However, that is quite a challenge for large populations.  I mean, Life still moves on.    

So, really the ultimate goal is to SLOW down the spread of the virus so that hospitals are not overwhelmed and become short of supplies.  This will make our health care system better manageable and reduce the mortality rate, until an effective and safe vaccine becomes available.

"Flattening the Curve for COVID-19"

Also, because COVID-19 is a virus that quickly and easily spreads, there is a good change that herd immunity will take effect and pretty much wipe out the virus out.

When a large portion of the population becomes immune, the virus has a less chance of survival.  Herd immunity is what often protects our elderly, our children, and those who may have trouble fighting off a virus.  Herd immunity also plays a major role in eliminating viruses – such as smallpox.

So, That’s My 2 Cents 

I am not sure if explaining the basics of viruses was helpful, but I do wish everyone the best of health, including your mental health!

If you are experiencing OCD contamination fears over COVID-19…BREATHE, learn the facts, and if you don’t understand something, ask questions.  Knowledge is extremely helpful when dealing with OCD fears.