Colds and flu

Updated 11 July 2014

A day in the life of a flu virus - thoughts and confessions

By tracking the diary of a flu virus we were able to bring you some information that might help you ward of the illness this winter.


By tracking the diary of a flu virus we were able to bring you some information that might help you ward of the illness this winter.

07.30. Having spent the night in the nasal passages of recovering flu sufferer, I’m expelled at around 60km/h when she sneezes while standing in the lift on her way to her office. I’m designed to handle this sort of turbulence.

07.35. I enter the building’s ventilation system and am propelled in warm, moist, air-conditioned comfort to the airspace of the building’s main office space.

08.10. I’m inhaled by a man working at a computer. Had the membranes in his nasal passages and throat been moist and healthy, I might have been prevented from entering. But he drank several glasses of good red wine last night and hasn’t drunk much water, so the membranes are dry and vulnerable.

08.12. My spikes penetrate the plasma membrane of one of his body cells and I enter the cell. I make my way swiftly toward the nucleus. Then the process of duplication has begun.

11.28. I’ll spare the details, but the replication process is swift and efficient. It’s ensured the survival and proliferation of my species despite medical advances. My offspring acquire a portion of lipid membrane from the plasma membrane and ease their way out. Then they move on to other cells.

14.48. By now the process of replication has taken place thousands of times. The man sitting at his computer is feeling a slight soreness in his throat. No wonder – his body is alive with activity. Each of my comrades is hard at work. The symptoms of our presence will make themselves apparent as the day wears on.

17.30. Full-scale war has erupted, with hostilities on all fronts. The man’s immune system is battling our forces and the casualties on both sides are appalling. His immune system has been weakened by the coffee he drinks and by the cigarettes he smokes. These habits have depleted his system of the Vitamin C his immune system needs to stay powerful. We’re winning.

20.15. The man has cancelled his dinner plans and is feeling thoroughly miserable. Our forces are exerting their influence everywhere now and the man is exhibiting the classic symptoms of our regime – raised temperature, headache, aching muscles and slight nausea. By the time he starts taking his medication we’ll have established a beachhead in his body that will his immune system will take days to conquer.

22.48. The man coughs and several of my comrades are expelled into the surrounding air. Fortunately he’s standing in the queue at a 24-hour pharmacy at the time, so there are plenty of receptive bodies in the area.


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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