This article will surely come as a surprise to the uninitiated. Most of us would not use the words virus and benefits in the same sentence. For all we know, viruses are a nuisance to daily life; they can cause an incredible amount of discomfort and pain, and are often the carriers of fatal diseases. A huge number of diseases are caused by viruses, most of which have been known to lead to a huge number of fatalities. Yet not everything about a virus is bad. Some viruses are being used to bring benefits to the human and animal population of the world. But, before we launch on a treatise about viruses and their effects, we need to know what a virus is.
What is a virus?
A virus is a microscopic organism that multiplies within a host, that is, another organism. The host can be any organism, that is, human, animal, insect, and even plants and unicellular organisms. Viruses are mostly associated with a wide range of pathogenic activity, some of them malignant, and others benign and beneficial.
The disadvantages of viruses:
Let us begin with the obvious, the disadvantages of viruses.
First of all, viruses are known to cause a wide range of diseases in humans, animals, birds, and insects, from the common cold to cancer. The deadly HIV is caused by a virus, as are chickenpox, as are sores, influenza, avian flu, ebola, polio, rabies, and measles, to name a few. Some common and some rare forms of cancers are also caused by viruses. What makes virus more difficult to cure is the fact that antibiotics do not work on them, which makes targeting and eliminating them effectively even more difficult.
A viral infection can be of many types. They can be congenital, or contagious. This makes people and animals even more susceptible to contracting an infectious virus; this factor also makes it more difficult to take precautions against infectious viruses. They can be passed on from the mother to the child through the umbilical cord, or they may be passed on via sexual contact.
Causes chronic infections
Some forms of viruses can also cause chronic viral infections, like HIV. This kind of a virus lives on within the host, effectively battling any attempt to eliminate it by taking over the immune system. Hosts of such viruses will be affected chronically by the disease caused by the virus, often throughout their entire life after contracting the disease. Needless to say, this drastically affects the quality and duration of the host’s life.
The advantages of viruses:
However, viruses are an important part of the ecosystem, and have been harnessed to be of medical use to man and fellow creatures.
Contributes to cellular research
Viruses are unicellular organisms, which makes them extremely important to the field of cell and molecular biology. Their simple structure makes them an effective model for studying cell function since they can provide important information about the structure and inner workings of a cell. Their contribution is invaluable in fields like genetics and molecular genetics, such as the study of the DNA, RNA processing, transcription, DNA replication, immunology, and translation protein transport. Viruses are used to introduce genes into cells that are being studied.
Helps in gene therapy
Since viruses are unicellular organisms and are widely used to study cells, they are of extensive use in one of the mist important medical fields of the present: cancer. Almost all gene therapy- the introduction of mutated genes in the cells in an effort to fight cancerous cells- are undertaken with the help of viruses, which are used to introduce the genes into the subject cell. Research and experimentation in this field would be next to impossible if viruses could not be harnessed.
A virus is used as vaccine. Since the virus have the ability to live on in the host’s system by replicating the system, they are extremely useful in preventing further attacks. The introduction of a virus in the host’s system is perceived by the body as a threat, which develops antibodies to fight against it. As a result, when the same kind of virus re-enters the body, immunity against it has already been built. This explains why certain virus-caused diseases do not relapse in people, such as measles.
Like all things on earth, the virus is also something we have love-hate relationship with. While on the one hand we would rather not come into contact with the deadly pathogens, on the other, a lot of our advancements would remain fictional had it not been for these organisms. And like anything else, we have learned to make the most of the situation by harnessing the virus and getting it to do some good for us.