‘Virusphere’ takes a nuanced look at viruses

“Virusphere: From Common Colds to Ebola Epidemics: Why We Need the Viruses that Plague Us”

by Frank Ryan

c.2020, Prometheus Books


278 pages

Your hands are raw.

But let’s face it: you’ll do anything to avoid getting sick or carrying the coronavirus home or to work. Nobody needs to be ailing when it’s almost spring. From what you can see, nobody needs to be exposed to this virus at all but read “Virusphere” by Frank Ryan because the virus needs you.

Imagine not having to get a flu shot ever again.

Imagine a world without colds, sniffles, raw noses, coughs, it would be magnificent to the average person, but not to Frank Ryan. He says he knows “that a world without viruses would not be one in which I would care to live.”

To understand what surely seems like an odd thing to say, we should understand a few things about a virus – but first, you’re pretty awesome: your body is made of “roughly 30 to 40 trillion cells,” including microbes that are necessary for you to live and thrive. That might sound like Virus Heaven but the truth is that viruses are picky about who they inhabit. The rhinovirus, for instance, thrives best in human nasal linings. The polio virus exists exclusively in humans. Bats are the natural hosts for rabies, on the other hand, and if a dog or skunk or human gets the rabies virus, then... oops.

What we must remember, says Ryan, is that viruses don’t target us out of a sense of anger or righteousness. They have no brains and they “are not evil.... But they are not free to do as they please.” Their only job, if you will, is to replicate inside their host in order to survive — which is scant comfort when you’re flat on the sofa.

Maybe this helps: there’s evidence that the presence of some viruses found in the human body helps boost the immune system. There’s also reason to think that viruses altered the “genetic landscape... from its very beginnings.” And there’s the keen “importance of the viral contribution to the deep levels of ecological balance ...”

Viruses can be good. We just need to remember to take precautions.

Your body aches, your head throbs, and this book isn’t going to do a darn thing to fix any of that. “Virusphere” doesn’t even have a list of tips for you to use. And yet, if you wonder how in the world this happened, it’s a book you’ll want.

In scientific terms, author Frank Ryan explains where viruses evolved, their contagiousness, and how they work. It’s a complex subject that’s broken into understandable parts but this is still not a skimmable read that you’ll finish in an evening. No, it demands that you to pay attention.

No problem: Ryan imparts a certain excitement about those things that cause misery, which makes this book like a peek into a hospital laboratory, or a tour of a geneticist’s workspace. Don’t be surprised, therefore, if “Virusphere” gives you a teensy bit of respect for viruses, bacteria, and microbes. Don’t hesitate to put this book in your hands.

Just be sure to wash them first.

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