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The Virus and the Body’s Superpowers

We have been looking at the immune system in two of its most basic forms, the innate system and the adaptive system. Now I want to turn our attention to the virus itself (not any particular one, though it is the SARS-CoV-2 that has us all spooked at the moment), to discover the nature of the beast, its powers and its weaknesses.

There are essentially two ways to pick up this little beastie – through a droplet containing it, or by making contact with a surface on which it is lounging.

The Virus

By now we are all familiar with this dust monster representation of the COVID virus. It travels in droplets of mucus and derives a small amount of nutrition from the gooey, slimy consistency of that environment. It is sprayed outward from a carrier in coughs and sneezes.

It does not travel freely in the air or fall on us in rain droplets. Even if this were possible, it has a lifespan of 72 hours without having a host (human body) to feed it and allow it to replicate. Even if it could float in the air or water, it would have to be PDQ in order to reach us before it cacked through starvation. (But it doesn’t, so put that thought away.)

Now for surface contact. “It can remain on a surface for up to 72 hours”, we are told in the BBC voice of dire warning. Good. This also means that it can only survive for a maximum of 72 hours or 3 days. So, let’s say you borrowed a library book or got a hold of something you suspected was covered in viral particles. The thing to do is put it somewhere, wash your hands thoroughly, and wait for three days until you touch it again. Four, if you’re feeling nervous.

The thing about hand washing is that we have to be aware of where our hands have been and what they’ve touched between hand washings. While this is currently socially unacceptable, you’re actually free to go about touching everything in sight until you wish to lick your fingers, wipe your eyes or pick your nose.

It’s at that point that you need to consider where your hands have been. Wash before you do any of those things (and please, after as well).

And please, please, with plain soap. This is all it takes to remove things from your hands, from dirt to microscopic particles. It is not necessary to attempt to kill them on your hands.

Plain old soap will actually begin to disturb the coating on the virus, disrupting its ability to be nasty. Apart from washing it down the drain, that’s all you have to do. Anti-bacterial soap is fully unnecessary (especially if you’re working with a virus). Not only that, but they interfere with your own beneficial bacteria in the long run. The majority of anti-bac soaps contain a nasty compound called triclosan, which I’ll be talking about next week.

So when you’ve been out and about, the first thing you should do on arriving home is…. (I’ll let you guess). This virus is actually quite fragile outside of the body. Simple soap and water, or a mild alcohol solution will remove it from anything you bring into the house. It is not necessary to kill the little beastie, but simply to remove it and not allow it to contaminate anything else.

The Body

Once the invader has gained entry to our body, we are not alone and defenseless. As we’ve seen already in previous articles, the body mounts an immediate response. I talked about setting fire to the enemy, but all it takes is a slight elevation in temperature to slow down the abilities of a virus to do its dirty work. With a more significant rise in temperature, it starts the killing field.

In fact, if the invader is a truly dangerous one, the body knows not to kill it at all. (Some are more dangerous “dead” than “alive”.) Our macrophages’ superpower is to be pacmen. They go around gobbling up the virus, engulfing it alive and trapping it inside itself. Then the macrophage dies, and the body comes along, sees debris and sends in a cleanup crew. It is expelled with all of the other garbage (metabolic waste) from our bodies.

When the body is feuding with these invaders and gobbling them up, our normal operations are neglected in favour of all of this action. This is why we feel tired, lethargic, achy and maybe feverish. There’s a war going on, an enormous amount of focused activity. It’s also why we don’t feel like eating much, because our digestion is shut down so that the body’s energy is channeled to becoming well again, using up its reserves.

Please bear in mind that the virus is not actually alive. It is not intelligent. It does not think or feel or have any desire to attack us. It just is. It is a tiny fragment of RNA in a protective coating. If we so much as disrupt the coating, it’s toast. You don’t even have to destroy it. It’s done. It is actually quite fragile out in the open world without the body as its host.

Superpowers

When a healthy body attacks an invader, not only does they body usually come out victorious, but it remembers its enemy and the first 72 hours of troupe assembling is cut down to just a few hours. This army is equipped and waiting, on guard for us at all times and stronger with each new bit of intelligence it acquires.

When we become “immune” to something, it doesn’t mean we’ll never be sick when it comes around again. It means that the time to fight it and the amount of energy required will be minimal. Sometimes we don’t even notice that it’s going on.

We treat the body like it’s an idiot. And we must stop this. The body is a masterpiece of intelligent action, and grows, maintains and heals us at all times until we commit it to the earth. We must approach our bodies with grace and reverence, feeding it properly and caring for it as our temple. It will, in turn, reward our efforts with resilient health, even (and maybe especially) during times of transient illness.

  1. References:
  2. Pathophysiology by Carol Porth
  3. The Immune System

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