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National Virus Appreciation Day

Virus Appreciation Day has been around at least since 2001, but it is unknown how it got its start and what type of viruses are supposed to be appreciated. Human viruses? Animal viruses? Computer viruses? More often than not, National Virus Appreciation Day has been associated with human viruses, so that is what will be done here. Why should viruses be appreciated, anyway? Shouldn't they be destroyed? Perhaps National Virus Appreciation Day is for appreciating the power of viruses, their formidable force, and their seriousness. For if they are ignored, it is to our own detriment.

Viruses are microscopic parasites, usually much smaller than bacteria. Their existence as an entity separate from bacteria wasn't confirmed until 1898, and they weren't first seen until 1939, with the electron microscope, eight years after its development. Viruses have genetic materials: nucleic acids that are either DNA or RNA. Their genome is the total sum of their genetic information. Viruses are coated with proteins called capsids. Some have a secondary layer called an envelope, which helps them attach to and enter host cells.

In order for viruses to replicate and survive, they must enter a host body, like an animal, human, or plant. They may gain access inside of a host's body through open wounds and respiratory passages, or by way of an insect. For instance, a mosquito with a virus in its saliva may bite a human. Viruses attach themselves to surfaces of a host cell, eventually entering into it, and delivering their genomes, which includes their DNA and RNA. This disrupts the host cell, creating conditions that allow the virus to make copies of itself and spread. The virus then continues to produce viral proteins and its genetic material.

Touch, respiratory droplets, direct contact, bodily fluids, contaminated water or food, insects, and from a mother to a child during birth are ways through which viruses can spread. Changes to viruses can make them more transmissible or better able to evade the immune system or treatments. Viruses can cause disease. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) can cause acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Influenza viruses can cause influenza. Many strains of virus, such as some coronaviruses, can produce the common cold. One coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome 2, or SARS-CoV-2, causes COVID-19. Some other diseases caused by viruses are measles, hepatitis, polio, and Ebola.

The immune system will detect viruses and attempt to fight them off. Cytotoxic T cells recognize viruses and release substances in an attempt to kill them, although they aren't always effective. Another type of immune cells are natural killer cells, which kill off the cells that contain the virus. Interferons, proteins released by a cell with a virus, warn other cells of the virus's presence; the other cells take the tip and change the molecular makeup of their surface. Antibodies also help fight off viruses before they reach a cell. They damage viruses so they don't have the capability to enter the cell. Antibodies come from either already having had a virus or from receiving a vaccine.

Vaccines may prevent disease and may reduce the chances of dying, getting seriously ill from a virus, or from passing it to others. Some vaccines have completely eradicated a disease, like the one for smallpox did. There are a few types of vaccines, such as those that contain an inactivated form of virus, those that contain a live, weakened virus, and mRNA vaccines, as is the case of the vaccine for the virus that causes COVID-19. There are vaccines for diseases like polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and a number of forms of the flu.

Although vaccination may prevent infection, what can be done once the infection has already occurred? Antiviral drugs can alleviate symptoms. They won't destroy the virus, but they may slow or prevent its growth, and may lessen it to the point that it can't be transmitted.

Because of their strength and ability to upend lives, there is no choice but to appreciate viruses. Viruses also have some utilitarian purposes for which they can be appreciated. For example, some have been used in research, helping those studying them understand cellular processes. National Virus Appreciation Day provides an opportunity to appreciate viruses, no matter for what reason or how it is done.

How to Observe National Virus Appreciation Day

The best way to appreciate viruses is to take them seriously and to learn about them and the diseases they can cause. The following are some diseases caused by viruses, with links containing more information about them from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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