If our immune system destroys the cell why are we unable to overcome the virus? Our immune system could be quite dangerous if left unmonitored.
At a time of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, firstly I would like to thank millions of healthcare colleagues across the globe for their hard work in the face of danger.
In this article I would like to take the opportunity to educate the people on the basics of the disease influenza. This will help elevate their understanding of viruses such as Covid-19, swine flu, etc.
WHAT IS FLU, AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by an influenza virus.
The flu is categorised into three groups—A, B and C, with Type A being the most capable of unleashing a pandemic. From 2004 onwards more than 5,000 strains of Type A influenza have been identified. Influenza A mutates more rapidly, allowing it to adapt to new hosts and even jump species. Good examples of this would be the aviation flu and swine flu that can be transmitted from birds and pigs to humans.
Like other viruses, the flu virus is a parasite that attacks your nose, throat and lungs. It is made up of an RNA strand enveloped by lipid proteins, two proteins called Hemagglutinin and Neuraminidase. Hence, most of them start with different numbers of HA and NA. This virus adapts and mutates very rapidly. Hence, we need to come up with a new way of tackling the mutation every year. Some of the very well-known variants are H1N1 (Swine Flu)
HOW DOES THE VIRUS WORK?
The HA (Hemagglutinin) attaches itself to a cell in the body and is let into the cell, Once the virus is inside, it multiplies by attaching its RNA to the cell, which innocently makes multiple copies of the virus using its own resources. The viruses created inside this cell uses its NA (Neuraminidase) to emerge out of the cell and start infecting the other cells.
Since the flu virus is starting from the respiratory system, the immune system of your body is triggered and it destroys the infected cell.
So, if our immune system destroys the cell why are people unable to overcome the virus?
Unfortunately, our immune system could be quite dangerous if left unmonitored. The cells communicate through information proteins called Cytokines. The virus infects the immune cells and triggers a doomsday reaction driving them to overreact. This leads the immune cells to send way more resources. Two types of immune cells wreak more havoc—Neutrophiles, they are great at killing, including healthy cells, and Killer T cells that order cells to commit suicide. They arrive in millions; they start killing and ask the healthy cells to kill themselves too. The more they arrive the more damage they do. In most cases, the immune system is able to kill the virus and the infected cells and is able to regain control, and clean up the body, but in some cases, the immune system has fought long and hard and the body gets filled with millions of virus immune cells and turns weak. The other bacteria use the opportunity and start infecting a weak body. After which, the body starts shutting down our organs one by one, to save resources, making it weaker and without, let’s say the kidneys to take out the toxic material. As a result, the body starts suffering even more.
So summing up on Covid-19,
- Since it spreads though aerosol droplets too, avoid close contact with people. Keep a minimum distance of at least six feet.
- The virus can stay alive on different surfaces for different periods of time. Hence keep a close watch on what you touch.
- Remember the lipid protein covering the virus has? Soap destroys that protein, hence, wash your hands regularly.
- Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose, as these become a gateway for the virus.
Remember that people are also asymptomatic. That means they do not show any kind of symptoms. A single infected cell with a single virus can procreate millions of virus.
The best way to stop the virus would be to deny any new hosts that it can infect. If you are reading this and are not yet infected, the best way is to keep yourself isolated for at least two weeks. If everyone could do this, the virus can be starved for new hosts and can buy us medical professionals the much needed time to do research, and more time to treat many more patients who have already caught it.
This article is a sincere effort to educate the common people some of the tough technicities of the flu virus. Hence, I have not delved deeper. This is not supposed to be considered as a scientific paper, rather a simple way of understanding the virus.
Dr Swati Maheshwari is an Internal Medicine specialist.