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When we hear the word virus, what primarily comes to our mind is a very small organism which causes infections. We also remember that they can only grow in the body of other living materials. Yet another annoying detail is that they can infect every single form of life including man. One thing however eludes the mind of even the educated ones amongst us. This is that not all viruses are bad; there are ‘good’ viruses as well. These ‘good’ viruses function to make life easier and the world a better place for us all.
Once upon a time (in 1796), a deadly virus known as smallpox was on the loose. Many medical practitioners tried to stop its spread and possibly treat it. Then a certain Doctor Edward Jenner discovered something very interesting: the milkmaids at the time never came down with smallpox. He traced this down to cowpox, the infection they had already gotten from the cows they handled constantly. This discovery led to what we study today as Immunology. About two centuries later (in 1980), the World Health Organization declared the world free from smallpox; nature had completely wiped out its first and only disease yet. Interestingly, cowpox is being deliberately kept in existence to combat smallpox should it ever return.
In some developing countries, electricity poses as one of their greatest challenges. Well good news to them and others, there is a likely (distant future) solution in form a virus. The virus was actually found as a solution for the safe production of the piezoelectric effect. The virus multiplies into millions by itself and does so in a very orderly fashion. Scientists at the Berkeley Lab were able to harness its characteristics and make a generator which generated electricity with just a tap.
The herpes virus is responsible for a group of illnesses; one in particular is the cold sores caused by the HSV-1. This virus has been used in the making of a drug called Imlygic which is used as an anti-cancer drug. Imlygic works on the mechanism that cancer cells lose the ability of normal cells to fight viral invasions. It became the first drug of its kind to be approved in the United Nations and although it increases the life span of melanoma patients by just a few months, this is in itself a great feat for a virus.
These are viruses which attack bacteria and some of them have been utilized for a greater cause and for the good of man. A drug company known as Intralytix founded in 1998, has developed a series of products targeted towards different food poisoning causing bacteria. Its first, ListShield, protects against Listeria which infects man with listeriosis. The 2006 approved drug is used by applying it to ready-to-eat meat products. EcoShield was also made against Escherichia coli. The two drugs were made with just a thousandth portion of the bacteriophage ensuring its safety for everything but bacteria.
This virus also known as the GB Virus-C is said to have infected about a billion persons today. It was found that infection with this virus is of benefit to HIV patients as it tends to slow down the rate of spread of the virus. Another group of Scientists also believe that the GBV-C could help an Ebola patient to survive the infection. These are mostly still unproven claims but we definitely hope they hold through.
So this particular virus comes as a foe but ends up being a friend. As a child, it infects a person and causes annoying colds. Most persons are exposed to it before adulthood and it confers some sort of immunity. On the other side of the coin however is the Hepatitis C virus which commonly causes liver cancer, the number three fatal cancer in the world. The flip is that a prior infection with the reovirus prevents individuals against Hepatitis C infection later in life. This same therapy also works against other viral associated cancers like the lymphoma caused by Epstein-Barr virus.
These viruses bring to light the fact that in every bad, there can be a good. There are almost always two sides of a coin, so a virus which is bad to one species or on one hand can be good to another or another hand.
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