How Many Viruses Are There Around Us?

We first need to briefly discuss what a viirus is.  A trip over to Wikipedia will help further define what a virus is. The fact that we’re constantly surrounded by viruses and bacteria is nothing new. But exactly how many?

A virus is an infective agent that requires a living cell in order to replicate.  They can cause anything from the common cold to HIV to Ebola. Other diseases are under investigation as to whether they too have a virus as the causative agent.  Diseases like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and even cancer can possibly be linked to viruses.  

Most of the time these viruses are relatively hard to catch.  Yes, the common cold is one sneeze away or one contaminated door knob from infecting you, but in general viruses are fragile and often tough to transmit.So what if a virus was truly airborne?  What if it were capable of sustained survival floating on the breezes?  What then?  The threat of a world pandemic and widespread disease certainly comes to mind.

A team of Korean scientists set up some traps to catch viruses and bacteria floating in the air. They set the traps in Seoul, in an industrial complex in western Korea, and in a forest. Their work was published in the August 2012 issue of The Journal of Virology.

Virus. Image: ucmp.berkeley.edu

Based on their study, they found out that the abundance of airborne viruses exhibited a seasonal fluctuation. The abundance increased from autumn to winter, and decreased toward spring. Perhaps a strong reason behind why we get ‘colds’ in the winter most often.  That and the forced sequestering inside, and drier air.

They also came up with some estimates: there are between 1.6 million to 40 million viruses, and 860,000 to 11 million bacteria in each cubic meter of air. So we’re basically wading through a soup of viruses. Fortunately most of these are not thought to cause harm to humans.  Emphasis on thought.

You need not be worried by the figures though, because the scientists found out that a majority of these viruses were plant-associated viruses, followed by animal-infecting viruses. The rest were unknown virus species, meaning they might or might not be dangerous at all.

Given that we breathe in roughly 0.01 cubic meters of air each minute, the results above suggest that we suck in at least several hundred thousand viruses every minute.

That is a lot of potential infection.  Some basic hygiene efforts certainly can keep us safer.  Washing hands well is a must.  Regular soap and warm water is all you need.  No need for fancy antimicrobial stuff.  In fact some research has shown that can make things worse.  The TIME is critical.  A general rule is to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head or recite the alphabet.  I do suggest in your head as you will get some stares in a public restroom when you break out a rendition of Happy Birthday.

Next, don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth.  General stuff here, but most of us are guilty at some point of touching a door knob, shopping cart then rubbing our eyes.  Major faux pas.

So be aware of what you do and wash up regularly.  All stuff you r mom told tyou as a kid.  She was right.

But lets not all get into a panic.  Yes, many viruses enter our body with every breath.  Throughout our evolutionary history some have been beneficial.  But it is food for thought the next time you take a deep breath to think of the splendid microbiological world you just inhaled.

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