Viruses and why they suck
Recently published research in PLoS ONE reported a breakthrough in the development of broad-spectrum antiviral therapy, theoretically capable of working against all types of viruses, from naturally emerging viruses such as influenza and SARS to clinical viruses like hepatitis and HIV. Viruses are very small acellular organisms that, when introduced into another organism, invade and commandeer cells in order to replicate and spread themselves. When viruses attempt to replicate themselves, the host organism usually has an immune system response which disrupts the replication process. Yet many viruses such as HIV can outsmart the immune system, leading to continued viral replication that can cause serious damage to the organism. There are both preventative and therapeutic treatment options available to deal with viruses, but they have several limitations. For instance, vaccines can be used to build up strong immune system responses to specific viruses, which ensure that if the organism does become exposed to the virus, it is able to fight the virus off.
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The coronavirus targets the lungs foremost, but also the kidneys, liver and blood vessels. Still, about half of patients report neurological symptoms, including headaches, confusion and delirium, suggesting the virus may also attack the brain. A new study offers the first clear evidence that, in some people, the coronavirus invades brain cells, hijacking them to make copies of itself. The virus also seems to suck up all of the oxygen nearby, starving neighboring cells to death. Infection of the brain is likely to be rare, but some people may be susceptible because of their genetic backgrounds, a high viral load or other reasons. The study was posted online on Wednesday and has not yet been vetted by experts for publication. But several researchers said it was careful and elegant, showing in multiple ways that the virus can infect brain cells.
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Viruses seem to exist solely to wreak havoc on society and bring suffering to humanity. They have cost untold lives over the millennia, often knocking out significant chunks of the global population — from the influenza epidemic which killed 50 to million people to the estimated million who died from smallpox in the 20th Century alone. The current Covid pandemic is just one in a series of ongoing and never-ending deadly viral assaults. If given the choice to magically wave a wand and cause all viruses to disappear, most people would probably jump at that opportunity, especially now.
In , a young man visited Cedars-Sinai hospital, in Los Angeles, with shortness of breath and with curious purplish lesions on his skin. He was given antibiotics and discharged; not long after, he died. Over a few months, Ho and his colleagues saw five men with similar symptoms. Ho continued to explore the disease. But Ho, who had emigrated from Taiwan when he was twelve, speaking no English, had an underdog mentality and would not be dissuaded.