Humans have a close connection with microorganisms. Microbes are present in almost all human surfaces like skin, digestive system, and mucous membranes. These microbes live in a symbiotic relationship with the human body and prove to be mutually beneficial. However, some microbes can make us sick or could even be fatal. Viruses are one such species of microbes.
What are viruses?
Viruses are tiny microorganisms that range in size from about 20 to 400 nanometers in diameter. Viruses have either DNA or RNA as their genetic material, surrounded by a protein shell and sometimes fatty materials also known as lipids.
How do viruses infect humans?
– Viruses remain dormant or inactive outside a living host. This is because it depends on the host’s cell for raw materials and energy to reproduce.
– It attacks by injecting its genetic material inside the host.
– This virus then makes copies of itself, releases new virus particles, and kills more host cells.
– After attacking the host, it can cause various diseases, like measles, chickenpox, common cold, genital herpes, and influenza. Many of the emerging infectious diseases, such as AIDS, SARS, and COVID-19 are also caused due to viruses.
How do viruses spread?
Following are some of the modes of transmission of virus:
1. Direct contact transmission: In direct contact transmission, the virus or bacteria transfer directly from an infected to a susceptible person. Direct contact includes touching an infected person, sexual contact or contact with their oral secretions. It is mainly classified into droplets and aerosol.
– Droplets: These are short-range transmissions. The infection spread from person to person by way of coughing, sneezing, or simply talking. This is because droplets (size >5μm) from an infected person get into the air (remains in the air for <17 minutes) and are inhaled by the people nearby. Anyone within 3 ft distance from the sick person can get easily infected. Droplets mainly infect the upper respiratory tract.
– Aerosol: These are long-range transmissions. The infection spread by inhalation of aerosols in the respirable size range (<5 μm). Aerosols remain in the air for an almost infinite amount of time and are dispersed over long distances (>1 m). Aerosols infect the respiratory tract, including the lower airways. Diseases caused by aerosol transmission include tuberculosis, chickenpox, and measles.
– Other modes: Viruses such as HIV, HPV spread through unsafe sexual practices, or through blood transfusion, HIV infected needles, or from an HIV positive mother to her child during childbirth.
2. Indirect contact transmission: In this, the viruses spread through commonly touched surfaces also known as fomites.
– Infected surfaces or fomites: Viruses also spread when you touch surfaces contaminated with germs and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth before washing your hands. Viruses can live for hours on surfaces like doorknobs, lift buttons, desks, keyboards, mouse, etc.
Some other factors responsible for the spread of a virus are:
– the size of the population and close proximity to people
– the number of people coming in contact with an infected person
– number of days a person has been infected
What are the necessary precautions to avoid the spread of viruses?
a) Good hygiene goes a long way
– Always wash your hands with soap and water at regular intervals. In case soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
– Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose to prevent contracting the virus.
– Cover your mouth and nose with a bent elbow while coughing and sneezing.
– Do not share your personal belongings with others like utensils, towels, or a handkerchief.
– Sanitize frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, handles, tables, and electronic devices.
b) Travel safe
– Avoid public transportation as much as possible.
– Always wear a mask while traveling.
– Keep at least 6ft distance with other passengers.
– Sanitize or wash your hands frequently.
c) Food safety
– Rinse and clean all vessels and items such as meat, vegetables, and other foods before consuming them.
– Handle raw food items like raw meat, fish separately, and properly.
– Make sure to cook food above 70℃ before consuming it.
– Always drink pasteurized milk after proper boiling.
– Drink only clean and filtered water only and not tap water.
– Disinfect the frequently touched kitchen items and surfaces.
– Cover your food to protect from insects, pests and other animals.
– Store food at safe temperatures.
d) Getting all the necessary vaccinations
– Make sure your children receive the necessary prescribed childhood vaccinations.
– Get your pet vaccinated, this will not only protect your pet but also you from certain viral infections like Rabies.
e) Stay home if you are sick
– While it is praiseworthy to be dedicated to your job or to your studies. But if you are not keeping well, it is advisable to stay home and let yourself recover. Your boss or your teacher will thank you for keeping those viruses at home!
– If there is an emergency and you need to go out in public, try to wear a face mask to avoid infecting others.
f) Safe sexual practices
Practice safe sex, use of contraception methods like condoms not only prevents unwanted pregnancy but reduces the chances of HIV transmission.
Avoid having multiple partners, which can highly increase your risk of contracting HIV and other viral infections.
Viruses spread from an infected person to another if they are in close contact or by touching infected surfaces. You can protect yourself and your loved ones from getting infected by a virus if you take proper precautions like:
– Staying at home if sick
– Staying away from infected people
– Covering face while sneezing or coughing
– Maintaining good hygiene practices
– Following proper food safety rules
– Vaccinations on time
Disclaimer: This initiative, which is bought to you by 1mg Technologies Pvt. Ltd. (“1mg”) and Lizol, a trademark owned by Reckitt Benckiser Inc (“RB”) is for public awareness only. This should not be considered to be a medical advice and/or a substitute to a physician’s advice. The views and opinions expressed by the participating physicians are their independent professional judgement in collaboration with 1mg. RB does not claim any responsibility for the accuracy of their views. Please ensure that you consult your physician for further clarity.
1. Drexler M; Institute of Medicine (US). What You Need to Know About Infectious Disease. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2010. I, How Infection Works. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209710/
2. How do viruses spread from person to person? WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/qa/how-do-viruses-spread-from-person-to-person
3. Pandemics: How Are Viruses Spread? National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. https://www.nctm.org/Classroom-Resources/Illuminations/Interactives/Pandemics-How-Are-Viruses-Spread/
4. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
5. How to prevent infections. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-prevent-infections
6. How Is HIV Transmitted? HIV.gov. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/how-is-hiv-transmitted#:~:text=Contact%20between%20broken%20skin%2C%20wounds,is%20not%20spread%20through%20saliva.