How a tiny virus brought 800 crore strong humanity to its knees

A virus is barely alive. It lives on the borderline of living and non living. Bacteria and virus have been one of the oldest organisms on Earth. Humans are the dominant species of this planet. Yet with all our power and technology, why are we not able to control such a small organism.

Just how tiny is a virus

A bacteria is visible under an optical microscope which you commonly see in a science lab. It is one micrometer in size which is one thousandth of an mm. Human hair is the size of 1 mm. If we split a hair right in the middle about 1000 times, then one strand will be the size of a bacteria. A virus is 100 times smaller than a bacteria. It takes an electron microscope to view a virus.

Did you know that – The largest virus is almost the size of a bacteria and was present on earth about 34000 years ago. It remained under frozen ground at Siberia for hundreds of centuries till the layers of ice melted and the virus was exposed and revived by scientists in year 2000. It was not that they were actually looking, but from time to time scientists dig up frozen ground to uncover the mysteries of ancient. One group of old virus were found in Tibetian Glaciers which could be 15,000 years old. Virus mutate all the time to create new versions of themselves.

Virus was discovered accidentally in 1886 after the discovery of a special kind of porcelain filter. This filter was believed to filter all kinds of bacteria. However plants were still getting ill despite the use of this filter which led the scientists to believe that there has to be a tinnier form of germ which must be passing through the filter and affecting the plants.

How a virus affects a body

A virus needs a host to survive and multiply. Virus consists of a strand of DNA or RNA with a coating of protein. In contrast, bacteria is a single cell living organism. A virus enters a body and attaches itself to a healthy cell. It inserts the strand of DNA in the cell and this begins the destruction process of the cell. The virus attack continues till the cell dies. If somehow the cell is able to resist the entry of the DNA strand, your body is safe from the effects of the virus. Also remember if one cell dies in the body, another cell will be created in its place. Bacteria infection like tuberculosis is cured by antibiotics but in case of virus, the body has to fight off the infection by creating antibodies. Vaccination prevents the virus affecting the cells in the body and helps create antibodies. HIV was discovered almost 40 years back and there is no vaccination developed yet.

New virus are created every now and then

Basic aim of a virus is to replicate and spread. This is how even computer virus are designed. Viruses not only replicate but can mutate into new strains. Sometimes they jump species, and other times they come out from the deep dark forests. HIV virus is believed to have come to humans by consumption of bush-meat. Coronavirus is a category of virus and in this group, just like others new virus are either replicated or jump from species. But whenever a new virus is discovered, first its family is determined and then it is named. The first coronavirus were discovered in 1960s, in humans and chicken. They were named human coronavirus 229E and human coronavirus OC43. Later we discovered MERS-CoV in 2012 and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019.

How COVID-19 got its name

COVID-19 is the short form or abbreviation of Coronavirus disease. WHO is responsible for naming new virus. They initially named it 019 novel coronavirus but this name is no longer in use. The virus causing COVID-19 is named SARS-CoV-2 or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. SARS-CoV-2 has a structure similar to bat coronavirus. This has led scientists to believe that the virus has jumped species from bats to humans. Initial lot of patients originated for the Huanan Seafood Market leading to suspicion that the virus traveled from wild animals to humans. The name seafood market means nothing because all kinds of meat is sold here openly including endangered animals. Anything from badgers to deer, peacock, bats and even donkeys and crocodiles are sold here. China has recently brought in a legislation baning the sale of “exotic” meat in Chinese markets. This legislation does not include use of animal parts in traditional Chinese medicine.

The oriental craze for exotic animals

China is the most populous country in the world with India coming up close. Chinese consume animals for food on an unprecedented scale. Chicken, pigs, rabbit and cattle is regular but not enough. Dogs, cats, emu, ostrich, reindeers, camels, donkeys are farmed for meat. Mink, silver fox, arctic fox and so on are farmed for fur. All these animals are officially permitted to be used for food consumption. The list is quite long and scary too. For years animal rights activists have tried to spread awareness and stop the barbaric practices adopted while rearing and slaughtering these animals. This scale of consumption is due to the predominant non-vegetarian eating profile of Chinese. Because the problem just begins here. Farming and rearing animals takes some sort of expenditure which is almost zero cost for wild animals. You just have to catch them. Huanan Seafood market which is believed to be the ground zero for the COVID-19 infection lists 75 wild life species which can be purchased for consumption. Frogs, snakes, foxes, wolf puppies, deer, peacocks, porcupines, beavers, crocodiles and so on. Wild animals are also hunted for their body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine. Tiger reproductive organs and rhino horn is used in preparing medicines. The animals are killed just for these parts.

It is not just China but the entire south east asian countries who are involved in the hunting and trade of wild animals. Birds to be kept as caged pets are in great demand all over the world. Parrots, songbirds, reptiles are captured to be sold as pets. Wild life consumption as food was not there earlier. It also began as a craze to do something different and show off on social media. Bloggers and influencers showing off by eating wild animals as exotic food.

Need, greed and breed

When you see a tribal person cutting down a tree to build a house deep in the reservations land, these people have been in harmony with nature for centuries. It is done to satisfy their basic needs. As part of their routine life, they carry out conservation activities. Then we have hunters and smugglers. They catch and kill wild animals for food, pets trade, fur, purses and belts, entertainment tourism and export. These are those who are greedy with what they want. They are fully aware that they are causing lot of harm conducting illegal activities, but it does not affect their conscience any longer. Finally there is a breed amongst us who do it because they like it. Rolls Royce Phantom extended wheel base is one of the most expensive car sold in India. With a price tag of 12 crore, it has 100 litre petrol tank and returns a claimed mileage of 10 kmpl. It can reach the speed of 100 kmph in 5.4 seconds. Top speed is 250 kmph. It is fitted with 130 kgs of insulation material which shuts all unwanted noise from outside. It also has a CD player! The people who thought of having such a monster on road and those who ride in it are typical examples of breed. The earth provides for the need of everyone but not their greed.

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Bottom line

Even though we are the dominant species on the planet, we misuse the most. We forget that everyone on this earth, birds, plants, animals, bacteria and virus has been part of this planet for centuries. They have an equal right to be here. The moment we take this right for granted, this virus is natures way of replying back. It is not a revenge act, but a cry that this is enough.

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