Debbie Knight

Posts Tagged ‘cold virus’

Achoo! The battle within

In observation on January 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

During my travels over the weekend, I came down with a rhinovirus – the “common” cold.

Although if you ask me, it doesn’t feel so “common” at the moment – it is the focus of my entire existence as I struggle to breathe.

(I know, I know. I’m being a big baby. It is, after all, “just” a cold)

As a scientist, I find it amazing that something so small (something like 30 nanometers in diameter) can impact an adult human’s life so profoundly.

As the immune system wages warfare, launching tiny molecular grenades to blast the infected cells and contain the infection, it also releases tiny molecular flares called cytokines to rally more troops in an attempt to rev up the battle. Some of those troops specialize in engulfing the enemy-laden cells (macrophages do this, for example). Some perform a cellular version of hand-to-hand combat (neutrophils and some lymphocytes do this). Others (like B cells) launch ninja stars (or antibodies) that stick to the surface of the infected cell, marking the cells for destruction. There is quite a bit going on in this microscopic battlefield.

But right now the casualty feels like my body as it aches and groans with every step I take.

Mucus coats nasal passages in response to the invasion, but only serves to annoy me as I must blow my nose every few minutes.

I am impressed with how this virus has evolved to coexist within its host — it only causes a temporary discomfort as it replicates itself like mad. Equally amazing is how the host’s defenses like sneezing help spread the new viral particles to new hosts (although I’m doing my best to keep these little critters to myself).

Image by Marcelo Rampazzo

Viruses are truly amazing entities.

I just wish it would do these amazing things somewhere else.