Viruses are responsible for many serious diseases including infectious hepatitis and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Viruses, unlike cells, cannot eat, grow or reproduce by themselves. They need a host to help them.
The new strain of H1N1 virus (swine flu) combines genetic material from pigs, birds and humans. Symptoms of swine flu include:
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Viruses are tiny. Picture one inch, divided into a million equal parts: A virus is the length of just one of these parts. Viruses like the H1N1 virus, are made of nucleic acid (DNA or RNA), coated with protein and a lipid membrane. Examples of lipids are steroids, fat and cholesterol. Viruses only contain a couple of enzymes that decode their genetic instructions, so they lie around waiting for a chance to steal some enzymes from a host cell.
Swine flu viruses can enter us through our nose, eyes or mouth. That’s why prevention methods aim at keeping the virus away from these areas. Once they gain entry, each virus finds a host cell-for example in our throat or nose-and infects that cell.
Once inside the cell, the virus releases its genetic instructions. Then, the genetic material takes the host cell’s enzymes and uses them to make parts for new viruses. Most of the body’s chemical reactions occur below 98.7 degrees. That’s why part of the body’s defense strategy is to raise the body temperature above that.
Once the new viruses are formed, they all leave the host cell, many times bursting it open and destroying it in the process. There are some medications that help once someone has caught swine flu. Antiviral medications are available via prescription for persons older than a year.
Children or teenagers who have swine flu should not take aspirin because that sometimes causes a serious illness known as Reye’s syndrome. Children can take fever and pain relievers containing ibuprofen or acetaminophen-for example, Advil or Tylenol.