Here come a couple of questions that might sound silly but they have meaning as some crazies, abetted by the damaged goods in the White House, press governors to go back to open stores, open bars and restaurants, full employment and “f… that virus!” That would be totally reckless.
Early, mostly-cave-dwelling humans did not say “let’s go out” when they knew there were giant hyenas, cave bears, cave lions, saber-toothed cats, false saber-toothed cats, or giant, predatory kangaroos in the neighborhood.
Is the coronavirus SARS-CoV2 alive, and is it out there hunting for new bodies to inhabit like a parasite so it can feed itself and reproduce?
In other words, is it something like in the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which plant spores grow into large seed pods that kill and produce duplicate copies of their human victims?
The answer to #1 is maybe. To #2 a definite no.
The “maybe” is because once this virus gets into you, it sheds its coat of benign particle smaller than any bacteria, uses your cells to produce more viral proteins to invade more cells. And so some scientists have long regarded a virus as the simplest of all living, gene-bearing life-forms.
But you’ll get argument on that. The dominant view seems to be that this one exists at the boundary between chemistry and life. Some virologists have said it exists “as a kind of borrowed life.” The H1N1 (below) was such a virus, which hit in 2009 and is considered to be a participating variety in the Spanish flu of 1918.
Bacteria, on the other hand, are alive. Although they are single celled, they can generate energy and the molecules needed to “feed” themselves and reproduce.
The virus isn’t waiting to leap on you. Versions apparently have been around at least through human evolution. If one human gets it, he can pass it on to many others. But to be clear, it cannot thrive and reproduce outside of a host body, human or animal. So while it’s not hunting for you, it’s very happy when it gets you because you were reckless.
No, it doesn’t “think.” It just goes to work invading your cells and making them part of the infection.
I’d put it this way, borrowing one expert’s explanation: They hijack various parts of your cellular machinery.
Sometimes you hardly notice and your anti-bodies quickly kill off the invader. Sometimes you get like a bad cold, like the flu. Sometimes — usually if you have serious medical issues already — you die gasping for air for your lungs.
Of course, in the latter case the virus dies, too, unless there been some quick human contact with the deceased’s body or fluids.
But while you’re alive and infected, these little guys quickly go to work creating conditions that allow for them to spread through your upper body.
Would you call that a “living thing”? In layman terms, I’d say yes, probably. But I’m a science fan and so my public answer is: Without your cells to pillage, viruses would not be able to multiply. Therefore, viruses are not living things.
But we are. We stand a good chance of being dead things if we follow the crazies’ call to “open ‘er up and let the good times roll!”