If I were a virus

I’m sick. I think. This is a weird flu; symptoms are mild, almost unnoticeable, but then I feel a pulse of ache in my ankle or elbow, back of my head or just that meaty bit at the base of my thumb – the telltale sports for unwellness. This is a ghost flu, a phantom flu. It makes me question my appraisal of health, my work ethic… It is a clever flu.

If I were a virus, I think my best chance of survival would be to convince my host that I’m not there. I’d be mild but pervasive – persuasive enough on their body, but subtle enough so their minds decide they’re not too sick to soldier on and wear themselves out on an everyday metropolitan lifestyle. It would be like a martial art where you use a person’s own force against them, except microscopically. My symptoms wouldn’t kill them, they may even like being sick, while somewhat unaware that something’s wrong. The imperative isn’t to make the victim suffer, but simply to be there, doing my thing.

Assuming viruses even work this way. I may be anthropomorphising, but I can’t see the logical sense in a virus WANTING to kill people. If they lose the host, they either die or sit around doing nothing indefinitely.

That Thinkquest link says viruses were once useful genetic messengers, until cells learned to do stuff by themselves and didn’t need viruses anymore. In small, gentle doses, they help us form immunity to more dangerous diseases (cowpox to smallpox). And I vaguely remember reading about some experiments involving inserting good microbial code within a virus’ shell so it could reach a sick person’s immune system effectively – that’s probably not how it went at all, but it’s what I pictured.

I wonder what useful viruses exist in nature. My head doesn’t throb as badly when I imagine my ghost flu is a friendly virus who can’t help but make me a bit sick, but is here to ward off worse ailments like horse flu or asian bird flu.

The picture above isn’t what I’m sick with, btw, nor is it a virus. I just thought it looked pretty – it’s horrible, though. It’s T. gondii (image by Ke Hu and John Murray; DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.0020020.g001), a protozoa definitively found in cats. Wiki reckons roughly half the world’s human population are infected with it; science wonders whether some cases of depression and mental illness can be attributed to this bug.