This is the first post I have written about colds. Colds make you feel crap, and it can be disheartening to hear that there is nothing other than rest and paracetamol to be done, as is the case most of the time. Here I’ll explain a bit about the 2 types of germs that cause colds – viruses (accounting for the vast majority of infections) and bacteria (which are fortunately much rarer but can cause severe illness) – and how they cause bother.
What They Are
Viruses are very simple, tiny little things that don’t even qualify as an ‘organism’ in many classification systems. All they are is a strand of DNA (or a similar substance, RNA) in a protein shell. However, despite their minimalist design they are expert at causing problems.
Viruses are the partying teenager of the microbiological world, breaking into a house, using the house’s telephone and wi-fi to make other revellers appear, eating the contents of the fridge and drinking anything in sight until the resources of the house are exhausted, then overflowing onto the street, taking the door off its hinge and breaking windows as they spill out, and in the process alerting the police whose tactics initially push the brats out to other houses, but who eventually fight off the invading hoards. They leave a mess that takes another week or so to clean up, but they rarely burn the house down.
Bacteria, on the other hand, are single-celled organisms in their own right. They have all the components needed to generate their own energy, move, replicate and produce chemicals (such as toxins) by themselves with no help from the body’s cells. To stretch my analogy a bit more (it is a great analogy, let’s face it), they are more like bad neighbours, partying into the early hours every night, lighting fires and scaring the dog. Although they live next-door, after a while arguments start breaking out and the bad neighbours start attacking, pulling down the fence and threatening to burn down the whole street. Bacteria-bad-neighbours are harder to get rid of than virus-teenage-delinquents and can cause more severe effects, but fortunately there are chemicals that bad neighbours welcome into their home that fine upstanding members of the community would never have in theirs. These chemicals (antibiotics) kill bacteria leaving animal cells untouched.