This time of year, in this year especially, there is a lot of buzz and fear over viruses. Ebola and Enterovirus D68 have been particularly newsworthy due to some tragic losses and some miraculous recoveries. I am not going to write about the politics or statistics of these viruses here, however, I would like to try to answer these questions: What is a virus anyway? How can we educate our children accurately without scaring them?
|Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus|
We can trace our discovery of viruses back to 1898 when it was found that the cause of foot and mouth disease in lifestock was something even smaller than bacteria. Although we did not have a clear indication of what that meant yet, it was the first evidence that illness could be caused by something else. Viruses, although unwanted in many cases, are truly brilliant. Outside of a host they are enclosed in a membrane, protein coat or capsid that encases the DNA and RNA that codes for their particular strain of virus. They depend on a host to reproduce, so once they have traveled through some vector (air, water, bodily fluids) they reach the cells of the host. Once in the host cell the virus inserts its DNA into the cell, which essentially takes over the cell and the virus uses the cell's abilities for itself. The cell begins to produce more of the virus rather than complete its normal tasks. Eventually, the viral material bursts from the cell and continues to find new cells to infect. Viral diseases come in many forms and use many vectors to travel. Ebola is an example of a virus that is not airborne, it travels through contact with bodily fluids. Enterovirus D68 on the other hand is one that is spread through the air when someone sneezes or coughs. There are thousands of viruses ranging from the common cold, to chicken pox, to AIDS.
How do you teach your kids or students about health and viruses? If you know of a great resource please add it in the comment section!
Resources for Kids and Adults about Health and Viruses: