Viruses are everywhere—they’re living microscopic organisms that are simply a fact of life. We come in contact with virus germs of various strengths and types every day, but not every virus causes a noticeable reaction. Understanding what a virus is, how it works in our bodies, and how to minimize your vulnerability can help lessen fear and give you a proactive advantage.
Virus germs are even smaller than bacteria, which is why some types of surgical masks are ineffective at preventing them from getting through. Made of genetic material coated in a protective protein, a virus needs a host in order to survive, which is why they’re considered parasitic.
Once it finds a suitable host cell—which can be human, animal, or plant, depending on the virus type—a virus replicates quickly. It’s only after the “incubation period”, once virus has replicated enough, that we start feeling symptoms. Some viruses cause more serious diseases like smallpox, measles, Ebola, herpes, rabies, and others.
Unlike bacterial infections, there are no cures for viral infections. Anti-viral drugs only work to potentially stop the spread or replication of viruses, but they cannot penetrate the protective protein coating or kill existing virus-infected cells.
The best defense against any type of virus is to keep your immune system as healthy and strong as possible. Of course, good personal hygiene (including frequent hand washing) is always important to help reduce your chances of getting any type of bacterial or viral infection.
Hippocrates wisely wrote, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food”, and one of his lesser-known writings states, “In food excellent medicine can be found.” Over 2,000 years later, these beliefs still prove true. Foods have medicinal value—both healing and preventive—as long as they’re fresh and not processed; it’s also best to choose organic produce and organic, grass-fed meats to avoid toxins as much as possible. Increasing your variety of greens and other fresh fruits and veggies creates a healthy and diverse gut microbiome, the basis of a strong immune system.
Focusing your diet on a variety of fresh, unprocessed foods, whether during an outbreak or not, can help get your system in disease-fighting shape. Known immune-boosters include (among others):
- Citrus fruits
- Green and red peppers
- Green leafy vegetables
- Brussels sprouts
- Garlic, ginger, turmeric (added to cooking or made into tea)
- Sunflower seeds, nuts
In addition, staying away from added sugars, industrial cooking oils (highly processed oils like canola, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, corn), and processed foods, as well as any foods you may be allergic to or have sensitivities to can help you stay healthy, recover from an infection quicker, and minimize chronic inflammation. Avoiding unhealthy choices is as important as including healthy choices in empowering your body to fight off infections. Also make sure to get enough sleep and make positive lifestyle choices, like not smoking and exercising regularly.
Viruses can spread easily in a number of ways, including person-to-person contact and consuming food or water that has been contaminated; some viruses can survive on surfaces for hours or even days. Touching a surface that has been handled by someone with the virus and then rubbing your eyes or touching your face before washing your hands thoroughly can transfer the virus to you. This is one reason why frequent hand washing is always recommended, whether there’s a widespread viral outbreak or just as a precaution against the common cold and flu.
Quarantine and self-isolation during a large-scale outbreak can feel challenging to individuals and families who are used to leading busy, active lives, but you can turn it into a positive experience for yourself and everyone else in your home. This is the time to go old school—if you have young kids, you can view this as an opportunity for some enjoyable bonding time. Rather than each family member spending hours on their own social media, encourage some “together time” with puzzles, games, arts and crafts, watching cute animal videos together, and coming up with other creative ideas. Reading, enjoying movies together and just taking the time to talk not only helps pass the time, but draws a family together in ways that can create better understanding and closeness in the long term.