A virus is a tiny, tiny thing that causes illness if it can get into the body. If viruses manage to get into the body, they act like burglars and break into the cells of the body. Once they break in, they take over the cell and stop them from working properly. This is done by stopping growth of cells and stopping them from rebuilding and repairing themselves. In some ways viruses act like people stealing a car and using it. They break in, take control and can use the cell for what they need. They have to do this because they cannot grow and create more viruses while living outside of a cell.
Viruses can hide from the body’s natural defences through living in the body’s cells. Sometimes the body is able to work out that viruses are there because the cells may look different or act differently. When this happens the body will naturally attack these viruses and stop their spread. When these types of viruses infect the body, the person may be ill for a day or two, but will eventually get better by themselves. In these cases the person will not need medicine to get better.
There are some viruses that can hide from the natural defences, or are make the person too ill where it could be possible that the sick person could die. Both of these types need to be treated by a doctor with medicine to help the person get better either by attacking the virus or treating the symptoms.
Viruses can be caught from lots of different places:
- Dirty water
- Other people (through unprotected sex with someone who has the virus or through close contact and touching, depending on the type of virus)
- Eating with dirty hands
- Being bitten by infected insects and animals
There are lots of different ways that you can come into contact with a virus. To protect yourself against these viruses it is important to make sure that water that is being used is clean and treated. Washing hands and wounds is also important, as well as keeping away from people who are already sick. This should only be done for a short period of time because eventually the person should get better, either through the body fighting back or through medicine.
There are lots of different types of viruses. How they make you ill depends on the type and where in the body the viruses attack. Here are some viruses and what illnesses they cause:
- HIV/AIDS which attacks the immune system which is the body’s natural defence against illness. It weakens the natural defences and can mean that even a cold can be life threatening (spread through blood-to-blood contact and other bodily fluids)
- Dengue Virus, which causes fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a skin rash but severe cases can be more dangerous
- Hepatitis A which can cause sickness, diarrhoea, vomiting, a yellowish skin, fever and stomach pain (spread by eating or drinking infected food or water)
- Hepatitis B can cause vomiting, yellowish skin, feeling tired, dark urine and stomach pain (spread by contact with bodily fluid like blood or semen)
- Hepatitis C can cause mild tiredness, sickness, muscle or joint pains, and weight loss, and over time it can damage the liver (spread through blood-to-blood contact)
- Influenza causing fever, headaches, tiredness, coughing, sore throat, blocked nose, and body aches (spread through person-to-person contact through coughing and sneezing)
- Measles can cause high fever, coughing, and a specific rash (spread through coughing and sneezing)
- Rotavirus which causes bad diarrhoea in children (spread through unclean surfaces and not washing hands after using the toilet)
If you know of anyone who may have one of these viruses, get in contact with a doctor as soon as possible so that they can be treated.