My cousin Jack is a structural virologist who has a laboratory at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla. Some years ago, he explained viruses to me as being analogous to a hypodermic syringe. They invade a cell, inject the needle into the next cell, plunge in the (usually) bad stuff. And the procedure is replicated. Cell to cell. Before you know it the cold virus, herpes, rhinovirus or the Ebola virus spread.

Viruses are different from bacteria – which are living organisms (and treated with antibiotics).  Viruses could be considered a “life form” since they carry genetic material, reproduce and evolve. But viruses have no cell structure and thus are described as organisms “on the edge of life.” Antibiotics do not work on viruses. When you get a cold, it’s going to run its course. Herpes may be your constant companion.  But vaccinations against certain viruses can help a host avoid contagion (witness the vaccines against flu, hepatitis, herpes, shingles, and HPV). Usually viruses are “bad stuff.” However there may be opportunities for using viruses for genetic modification. Jack mentioned that there is a scene in the The Bourne Legacy which touches – quite accurately – on this possibility. According to many, the notion of using viruses for genetic modification is not so far-fetched (see http://www.wired.com/2012/08/bourne-legacy-gene-doping).

As to the hullaballoo about the Ebola virus, Jack commented that Ebola has been in the U.S. for decades. It has been kept – and studied – in laboratories with BSL 4 (“Biological Safety Level 4“) facilities. A “monoclonal antibody” made by Mapp Pharmaceuticals appears to be the first therapeutic to change the course of Ebola infection in humans. That’s why the two suffering from Ebola were brought to the U.S. This antibody could never have been made without the years of research. While cautious, Jack said that such monoclonal antibodies have made some inroads in more than one form of cancer. And that inroad appears to be working with Ebola. See http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/04/health/ebola-drug-questions/index.html?hpt=hp_t1   Want a good read on the subject?  Read The Hot Zone by Richard Preston.  Wow!