Even though we are exposed to viruses in various forms from as early as we can remember, they still remain beyond our control. Many of them such as chicken pox and the common cold have symptoms that are very uncomfortable, while others pose a much more serious threat to humanity. The significant difference between the size of the organism and the amount of damage that it can do to the human population, almost seems to be a mockery of our systems.
Ebola is one of the viruses that is currently associated with many human deaths. It is believed to have originated in bats in West Africa, and is transferred in humans quickly and easily through contact with those that are affected. It is associated with an extremely high fatality rate, as approximately 50% of those that are infected end up dying from the virus. The symptoms are very flu-like in appearance but quickly escalate to include nausea and diarrhoea. In order to find a cure or vaccine to help decrease the amount of people that die from the virus, scientists are continuously studying the survivors.
HIV is another virus that has affected the world population significantly. It is caught mainly from sexual or blood contact, and breaks down the immune system by attacking CD4 white blood cells directly. Different medications, over the years, have made it possible for people to live for very long periods without the virus advancing any further.
Even though the regular influenza virus is responsible for a large number of deaths each year, it becomes even more dangerous when a new strain develops. One example of an influenza epidemic was the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in 1918, where in excess of 40% of the world’s population got sick and more than 25 million people died. Another strain of influenza that has proved fatal in more modern times was the swine flu (H1N1 virus) attack in 2009.
Our battles with these miniscule killers are long and continuous, but there is sometimes a great victory on our side. Smallpox was one of the most deadly viruses to plague us for centuries, leaving at least 1/3 of its victims dead and many survivors permanently scarred or blind. In 1980, it was announced that the world was now free of the threat of smallpox. Virologists, and doctors, took advantage of the distinct symptoms and began treating those exposed to the virus by giving them the ‘ring vaccine’ as soon as possible after exposure, resulting eventually in its complete eradication.
After being affected by certain viruses, our immune system produces natural anti-bodies so they cannot infect us more than once. Getting the full blown virus can be deadly so vaccines are made by introducing weakened forms of the viruses into the body, to allow it to develop its own immunity. This has been very successful in limiting the amount of people certain viruses affect. Virologists and other scientists continue to work diligently at finding ways to make vaccines for the ones that still continue to prove fatal.