Strong immune system may save bats but make their germs harder for humans and others to survive
Article includes Power Words
acute: An adjective to describe conditions, such as an illness (or its symptoms, including pain), that typically are short in duration but severe.
antiviral: A virus-killing substance prescribed as a medicine.
bat: A type of winged mammal comprising more than 1,100 separate species — or one in every four known species of mammal.
cell: The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.
colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
coronavirus: A family of viruses named for the crown-like spikes on their surface (corona means “crown” in Latin). Coronaviruses cause the common cold. The family also includes viruses that cause far more serious infections, including SARS.
defense: (in biology) A natural protective action taken or chemical response that occurs when a species confront predators or agents that might harm it. (adj. defensive)
Ebola: A family of viruses that cause a deadly disease in people. All cases have originated in Africa. Its symptoms include headaches, fever, muscle pain and extensive bleeding. The infection spreads from person to person (or animal to some person) through contact with infected body fluids. The disease gets its name from where the infection was first discovered in 1976 — communities near the Ebola River in what was then known as Zaire (and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo).
ecologist: A scientist who works in a branch of biology that deals with the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings.
evolve: (adj. evolving) To change gradually over generations, or a long period of time. In living organisms, such an evolution usually involves random changes to genes that will then be passed along to an individual’s offspring. These can lead to new traits, such as altered coloration, new susceptibility to disease or protection from it, or different shaped features (such as legs, antennae, toes or internal organs).
factor: Something that plays a role in a particular condition or event; a contributor.
germ: Any one-celled microorganism, such as a bacterium or fungal species, or a virus particle. Some germs cause disease. Others can promote the health of more complex organisms, including birds and mammals. The health effects of most germs, however, remain unknown.
host: (in biology and medicine) The organism (or environment) in which some other thing resides. Humans may be a temporary host for food-poisoning germs or other infective agents.
immune: (adj.) Having to do with the immunity. (v.) Able to ward off a particular infection. Alternatively, this term can be used to mean an organism shows no impacts from exposure to a particular poison or process. More generally, the term may signal that something cannot be hurt by a particular drug, disease or chemical.
immune system: The collection of cells and their responses that help the body fight off infections and deal with foreign substances that may provoke allergies.
infect: To spread a disease from one organism to another. This usually involves introducing some sort of disease-causing germ to an individual.
inflammation: (adj. inflammatory) The body’s response to cellular injury and obesity; it often involves swelling, redness, heat and pain. It also is an underlying feature responsible for the development and aggravation of many diseases, especially heart disease and diabetes.
mammal: A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding their young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.
Marburg: A viral disease that causes a hemorrhagic fever. It’s caused by a filovirus, an infectious agent in the same family as Ebola.
outbreak: The sudden emergence of disease in a population of people or animals. The term may also be applied to the sudden emergence of devastating natural phenomena, such as earthquakes or tornadoes.
pathogen: An organism that causes disease.
pneumonia: A lung disease in which infection by a virus or bacterium causes inflammation and tissue damage. Sometimes the lungs fill with fluid or mucus. Symptoms include fever, chills, cough and trouble breathing.
protein: A compound made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. Among the better-known, stand-alone proteins are the hemoglobin (in blood) and the antibodies (also in blood) that attempt to fight infections. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.
rabies: A virus that is transmitted from mammals such as bats, raccoons, skunks and dogs — sometimes to people. Rabies is found on every continent except Antarctica, and is spread by contact with the saliva of an infected host. A vaccine exists. Without a vaccination, nearly every infected person will die.
reservoir: A large store of something. People who study infections refer to the environment in which germs can survive safely (such as the bodies of birds or pigs) as living reservoirs.
respiratory: Of or referring to parts of the body involved in breathing (called the respiratory system). It includes the lungs, nose, sinuses, throat and other large airways.
risk: The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. (For instance: Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.)
rodent: A mammal of the order Rodentia, a group that includes mice, rats, squirrels, guinea pigs, hamsters and porcupines.
SARS: (short for severe acute respiratory syndrome) An infectious disease that emerged in 2002 and quickly spread to infect more than 8,000 people, killing nearly 800 of them.
species: A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.
virus: Tiny infectious particles consisting of RNA or DNA surrounded by protein. Viruses can reproduce only by injecting their genetic material into the cells of living creatures. Although scientists frequently refer to viruses as live or dead, in fact no virus is truly alive. It doesn’t eat like animals do, or make its own food the way plants do. It must hijack the cellular machinery of a living cell in order to survive.