By Ebele Orakpo
In my first year in Virology class, the lecturer asked: “What is a virus?” Silence. You could hear a pin drop.
When no JAMBITE wanted to throw a stone, the man decided to answer his own question. The answer is unforgettable: “A virus is a virus because it is a virus.
“This time, the silence spoke: “How can I start my university sojourn at the mercy of a mad man?”
But the lecturer, unmercifully, went on to say that in the beginning, viruses were minding their own business until man, with his busybody nature, decided to disrupt the system.
That was when microorganisms, including viruses, began to fight back by attacking man.
Of coronavirus and Nigerian cures
The global coronavirus epidemic and the understandable fears it has generated reminded me of that lecturer’s answer and analogy.
However, more comical than his classroom shenanigans and, perhaps, equally engaging are the various cures Nigerians are inventing.
In Lagos State, hand sanitisers and face masks have become the new crude oil. Scarce and costly, when available.
In Kaduna State, the price of garlic and ginger have gone up, following a letter purportedly from, wait for it, China.
This letter said a mixture of these two spices and some herbs, taken as a tea, will secure one’s life against coronavirus.
While the use of sanitisers should be part of basic hygiene, garlic, ginger and, in fact, other spices nature blesses us with, boost immunity.
But they are no cure for coronavirus. Neither is salt, hot water or any other contraption Nigerians will come up with.
Virus is virus because it’s…
The truth is that there is no total cure for most viral infections because of the nature of viruses. For your information, antibiotics do not work for viral infections.
Now you see why my lecturer said: “A virus is a virus because it is a virus.”
Virus (cold virus: cough and catarrh, for instance) only becomes a living thing when it gets into a living thing. That is, it becomes a non-living thing outside a living thing.
So it is almost impossible to deal with.
The only cure for virus is virus
Mercifully, nature did not leave mankind at the mercy of viruses. When it comes to viral infections, the body heals itself and that is why it is very important to have your immune system in top shape.
Vaccines are actually made of attenuated (weakened) virus. Once it is introduced into the human body, it is seen as a foreign object which must be destroyed.
So the body mobilises the soldiers called phagocytes, which go after the foreign body, encircles it, engulfs and destroys it.
Now, when the real virus infects the same person, the specific phagocytes produced by the body to destroy the attenuated one in the vaccine, recognises the virus and destroys it. That is when the person is said to be immune to the viral disease.
However, my lecturer in that year one class didn’t put this scholarly. He went dramatic.
This was how he put it: “As the virus gets into the body, the soldiers (phagocytes) look at one another and tell themselves this is not one of us; it does not look like us, so it must be an enemy.
“They encircle the intruder, engulf and eat it up completely. Then, like victorious soldiers, they go back to their positions in jubilation, waiting for another intruder.”
In conclusion, three things are true for viral infection: One, if you survive one, you become immune to it.
Two, treatments only help with symptoms until a vaccine arrives and, third, while you rush for sanitisers and face mask, drink water and eat what will boost your immune system.