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Issue Features
Discovery Magazine 1/1/1992

Have You Ever Had a "Virus"?

It's no fun being sick, is it? But we all get sick at one time or another. Sometimes you hear people say, "He's sick; he has a virus." What does it mean to "have a virus"?

There are a lot of things in the world around us that we can see easily with our eyes. But there are also things that we cannot see. Some things (like planets and stars) are quite large, but are too far away for us to see them. So, we use a telescope to help us. Other things, however, are too small for our eyes to see, and so we use a microscope to help us. A microscope makes small things look bigger. We call things that are too small for us to see "microscopic" ("micro" means small).

With a microscope, you can see very small things like bacteria. Bacteria are almost everywhere. They are very tiny and live in the air, on our skin, in the soil, in foods, etc. There are some bacteria that are helpful to us (for example, we use some bacteria to make cheese). There are also some that can make us sick (for example, some bacteria can give us a sore throat).

Viruses are strange things. They are 10 to 500 times smaller than bacteria! And they cannot be seen with a normal microscope. We have to use a special microscope called an "electron microscope" to see them. Many viruses are "pathogenic" (this means they make us sick). They do this by attacking the cells of our bodies. A virus may get into our body through the air, or through something we handle. The virus then attaches itself to one of our cells. It pokes a hole in the cell, and carefully squeezes through that hole its "information molecule." Viruses are parasites. They must use another cell's parts to grow more viruses.

How does a virus make us sick? Viruses take control of our cells from inside the cell itself. When that occurs, our cells stop doing what they are supposed to do, and start making more viruses. This causes our bodies to feel "sick." Some viruses affect our muscles, some affect our brain, and some affect other parts of our bodies.

God has designed our bodies so that they can fight off most viruses. When we get sick, if we will rest and eat right, our bodies can usually destroy the virus and we will feel better again. Sometimes the doctor can give us some medicine to help us get well. The next time you hear someone say "I'm sick; I've got a virus," you'll know what he means.


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