Cold viruses are late-comers to a legion of creatures already prowling around our insides. We’re hardly the pristine places we imagine ourselves to be. We live in a matrix of microbes, and despite the avalanche of antimicrobial mists, sprays, lotions, soaps and cleaning products on the market, it’s impossible to dodge them - indeed, we wouldn’t want to.
Humans are like bustling ecosystems, occupied by trillions of mostly harmless microbes that give as good as they get, helping us digest food, regulate our immune systems and stave off disease. There are viruses, sharing our bodies from childhood to old age, causing no harm - or at least only minor annoyances. Cold viruses are less interested in our misery than their own perpetuation.
The goal of any virus is not to make us wretched - or to kill us - but to reproduce. For millions of years, cold viruses have studied our cell biology and immunology the hard way to attain a cosy ecological niche in which to replicate, and then transmit their own. It’s not in their interest to make us sicker than they do. It’s to the virus’s advantage to mitigate its virulence without compromising its ability to transmit. That is the tightrope it walks.
A perfectly adapted virus might have a way of replicating that involves no damage to its host at all. Rhinoviruses are as close to perfectly adapted as it gets, having attenuated their virulence to the point where their hosts are well enough to be up and about sharing their runny noses at work and school, facilitating their spread.
Some scientists go so far as to say that our relationship with cold viruses is evolving towards one of symbiosis, beneficial to both parties. Really, what could we possibly gain from such a partnership?
Well, respite, for starters. Colds force us to slow down. Much has been made of the interruptive power of the common cold in school, work, and industry. That’s only one side to the story. It’s a good thing to be laid up once in a while, compelled by nature to shift routine and retreat from everyday pressures. A few days at home with the sniffles can be health-giving: the change of pace, the chance to suck cough drops, the opportunity to read, and if you’re lucky, the sympathy of a solicitous spouse, friend or doctor, all can have a restorative effect.
Think of colds as a safety valve. If somehow we did away with them altogether, who knows? We might suffer more stress-related ailments, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure. These talented parasites may also make us smarter and stronger. They offer our immune systems safe, natural on-the-job training vital for the development of robust defences and even tolerance of harmless substances. It might not be such a good idea to try to shield our children from the normal rounds of snotty noses. And if our body’s immune response to bugs such as rhinoviruses seems overzealous we should consider the research that shows that the inflammatory response is present in vertebrates and invertebrates; and the fact that we’ve hung on to it from the beginning of time suggests the benefits of overkill may outweigh the disadvantages.
The common cold is most like a distant relative who visits once or twice a year, moves in for a few days (often inconveniently), whose slightly annoying habits agitate you (which is as much your fault as theirs), who forces you to retreat to the privacy of your room - but who also reminds you, grudgingly, of your deeper roots, your shared inheritance, and offers a little education about yourself that may well serve you later. When they finally leave, you’re relieved, happy that life can settle back into its normal routine (which you appreciate a little more for the hiatus) - fully aware it won’t be long before they’re back for another visit. And - sigh
- that you may be the wiser for it.
- that you may be the wiser for it.
Isn’t God’s chemistry amazing?! – Sniffles… ~
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”” -John 10:28-30