Understanding Viruses and Your Immune System

Published on: March 28, 2020 (Last modified on: March 23, 2020)

Everyone knows that viruses exist in many forms, but not everyone really understands how viruses can attack the body. With the recent worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19, it is more important than ever to know how viruses spread and how the immune system can fight off these deadly pathogens. Here is some basic information on what viruses are and how they infiltrate the body, as well as the importance of the immune system in fighting these bodily invaders.

What Is a Virus?

A virus is a pathogen that needs a host cell to replicate – viruses do not store their own energy and like a parasite, need a host to grow. There are billions upon billions of viruses in the world, each type with specific cells that it targets. Viruses can attach to the outside of a cell using certain proteins, then penetrating the cell wall. Once inside, it can begin replicating until eventually the cell is destroyed. The new virions then seek other host cells to attack to make more of the virus.

Each virus is looking for a specific type of cell. Some viruses only effect bats, cats or dogs, while other seek human cells. Some are able to mutate between species, which is what occurred with COVID-19. When the virus replicates, it creates virions that can be released in mucus, skin, bodily fluids and other substances released by the body. The virus is protected by an outer layer that allows it to travel from one host to another, but this can make the virus vulnerable.

How Do Viruses like COVID-19 Cause Illness?

The continual attack of cells in the body by viruses can cause illness. The quicker the virus replicates, the deadlier it can be to its host. The body’s immune system is designed to fight viruses and stop it from replicating. Some viruses like the herpes virus may go dormant for periods of time, then reactivate. Some types of coronaviruses like COVID-19, SARS and MERS are more deadly due to the type of cells they attack (respiratory) and how easily they spread.

Viruses can only survive outside a host for a limited amount of time. If the protective layer that surrounds a virus is compromised, it will die. In the case of most coronaviruses like COVID-19, the protective layer is made of lipids that are dissolved by soap and alcohol. This is why hand washing and cleaning surfaces with alcohol-based cleaners are so effective in killing the virus and limiting the spread.

Improving the Immune System

While new viruses like COVID-19 may not have a cure or vaccine, many people survive their attack. This is due to a healthy immune system that is able to fight off the virus. The immune system is how the body protects itself from invaders like COVID-19 – this includes “good” bacteria in the digestive system, proteins, blood cells and other defenses that seek out invaders or foreign entities in the body. An immune response is when the body is triggered by a foreign invader like a virus, sending more attack agents to the area.

While our immune systems keep us safe from illness on a daily basis, it requires nutrients, rest and balance. There are many different immune components that need to be ready to fight when facing an aggressive virus like COVID-19. Some simple factors can improve the immune system and help it do its job protecting the body. This includes:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Relax and reduce stress
  • Include probiotics in your diet
  • Engage in low to moderate exercise daily

Keeping your immune system healthy is your best defense against viruses like COVID-19 that do not have a vaccine or cure. To find out more about keeping your immune system healthy, talk to your physician or naturopathic doctor to discuss ways to boost your immune system against viruses.

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