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What a virus is and how it makes you sick

Dear Heloise: Simple question: What is a virus? How can it make us sick? — Janet in Ohio

With COVID-19 (a coronavirus) spreading around the world, viruses have been in the news a lot, so yours is a good question. But the common cold and influenza, among many other illnesses, are also caused by viruses. A virus is a contagious (infectious) agent, sometimes called a pathogen. It is smaller than microscopic, and spreads rapidly.

A virus only reproduces inside the living cells of its host: a plant, animal or person. However, a virus can survive a long time off a host. That’s why it’s important to wipe down surfaces and to wash your hands often. This can lessen the chance of advancing a virus around your home.

Viruses can spread through sneezing, coughing and exposure to infected blood, among other ways. Let’s say an infected person sneezes on you, and you breathe in the virus. The virus can attach to your healthy cells in your lungs, reproduce and make you sick.

So, listen to the experts: Keep yourself and your home clean, and stay home if you are sick. — Heloise

(Heloise is a columnist for King Features Syndicate. Send a hint to P.O. Box 795000, San Antonio, Texas 78279-5000, fax it to 210-HELOISE or E-Mail: Heloise@Heloise.com.)

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