Personification of a Virus

Is a virus something that thinks and seeks out hosts? Does a virus actually know when the natural host is becoming endangered?

David Quammen is a scientist who studies spillover events. COVID-19 is apparently a spillover of a virus from one animal species to humans.

His book Spillover is on my reading list, should I ever get sent into quarantine. He spoke with NPR’s Scott Simon and seemed to indicate that when animal hosts grow scarce, viruses look for new hosts — and this time we’re “it.”

Well, it happens by human contact with wild animals. Every species of wild animal living in our diverse ecosystems and our remnants of ecosystems carries viruses. And many of them carry a lot of viruses of which most are unique to the human species. So as we come in contact with those animals – hunting them, cutting down their habitat, building timber camps, building mining camps in those diverse ecosystems – we offer ourselves as an alternative host to them.

If a species is becoming endangered and going extinct, the viruses in that have a chance to transfer to a new host. They will seize that opportunity.

And if they transfer to humans and are able to replicate and spread, then they have, as one scientist has told me, they’ve seized the golden ticket. They’re now in the world’s most abundant large animal, and they’ve achieved great evolutionary success. This virus now has achieved great evolutionary success.

I’m not a scientist, I’m a school teacher. In 4th grade we teach personification. Winnie the Pooh talks and dresses himself and occasionally feels pensive, unlike actual bears.

I have an idea that a virus, lacking a brain, eyes or strategy…does not know that its favorite host species is becoming endangered. Eat a bat, and you might get a virus.

Not because the humans have hunted bats to near extinction, because we haven’t. Just ecause a virus does what it does: reproduce and destroy.

The more we tackle this science problem with science, the better off we’ll be.

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