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Do Respiratory Viruses Cause Permanent Damage?

Updated on March 15, 2010
Image of an influenza virus invading respiratory tissue
Image of an influenza virus invading respiratory tissue

What are viruses and how do they cause damage?

Viruses are extremely tiny, with an influenza virus being about 1/10 of a thousandth of a millimeter in diameter. It is difficult to comprehend how such a tiny little thing, that you can not even see without the aid of an electron microscope, can do so much damage.

Respiratory and all other viruses have receptors on their outside surface, which "fit into" and attach to the surface of cell walls. They use these receptors to lock onto target cells, and then work their way into the cell, invading it.. Neuraminidase and hemagglutinin are proteins found on the envelope, or coat, of the virus that help the virus to lock on to and invade its target cells. Once inside the cell they utilize the inner contents of the cell to reproduce thousands or even millions of copies of newly replicated viruses, which are released and go on to infect other cells, or they are expelled from the body with every cough or sneeze, to infect new victims.


We all know that respiratory viruses are very easily transmitted through respiratory droplets released into the air by coughing or sneezing, and which we then breathe into our own respiratory systems, or by touching infected items and then touching our noses, eyes, or mouths. Respiratory viruses can live on surfaces, in some cases, for up to 72 hours!

Respiratory viruses can very easily be spread to other people. An infected person may spread germs to others by coughing, sneezing, or being in close contact with others. Viruses can be left on objects such as door knobs, counters, telephones, tables, cribs, and toys.

Viral infections trigger reactions which cause cellular and oxidative stress on DNA and many types of cells. Viruses have the capability of selectively attacking specific cell types. This predilection of viruses for certain cell types is called "tropism". Depending on the tropism of the virus, targeted cells could be respiratory tissue cells, lymphocytes, T Cells, phagocytes, or virtually any kind of cell.

Some diseases in which viral infections have been implicated as a causative factor, depending on which cells the virus has caused damage to, include: diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other connective tissue diseases, psoriasis, inflammatory neurologic diseases, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue fyndrome, prostate cancer, respiratory syncitial virus disease, Aids, some lymphomas and leukemias, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, multiple sclerosis, hypertension, kidney disease, stillbirths, thyroid diseases, and even reproductive diseases. In fact, having had a viral infection has been cited as a cause of almost all autoimmune disease conditions!

In this discussion, however, we will mostly focus on respiratory tissue and heart muscle cells, which are the ones mainly affected by respiratory influenza viruses. Respiratory virus infection may result in considerable lung injury, caused by immunopathologic tissue damage.

A variety of viruses, such as the influenza viruses A and B, the human respiratory syncytial virus, the parainfluenza viruses, and the adenoviruses, cause seasonal respiratory tract infections. Respiratory viral infections can cause acute and chronic airway damage, which is attributable to the production of allo-reactive cytokines during viral replication. Current clinical data suggests that respiratory viruses play a possible role in the development of Bronchiolitis Obliterans, especially in babies or small children, and in people who have pre-existing conditions such as asthma, COPD, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, and in lung transplant recipients.



Bronchiolitis - An Overview

What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is the inflammation and thickening of the bronchioles in the lungs, which affects breathing. It can be triggered by certain (viral) infections, drug reactions, or for no obvious reason. The condition often progresses to cause serious respiratory problems, such as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), or even death. Small babies less than 6-12 weeks old and lung transplant patients are the most susceptible to bronchiolitis, as are those with compromised immune systems, respiratory diseases, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and those over the age of 65. In the case of the H1N1 virus, it is also known that cytokine storms are more likely in those with strong immune systems. It is precisely these cytokine storms which can cause damage to lung tissue.

The bronchioles are tiny tubes (airways) inside the lungs, which carry air to the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lungs. When irritation or infection is present, these small airways become inflamed and swollen, making it hard for you to breathe. The airways become filled with fluid, mucus, and dead tissue, and muscles around them tighten, making them smaller. This gives you the feeling of "drowning in fluid", and breathing becomes extremely difficult, or impossible.

Bronchiolitis is usually caused by viruses, and most often by the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). However, other viruses can also cause bronchiolitis, including those that cause influenza (the flu), colds, and pneumonia.

The term "obliterans" refers to inflammation of the bronchioles, which partially destroys (obliterates) the small airways. The term "pneumonia" refers to inflammation of the lung tissue around the bronchioles - but not due to infection with an organism. A more accurate term to describe this inflammation would be "pneumonitis" - which means inflammation - but "pneumonia" is the term that has stuck.

Bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia (BOOP) is inflammation of the small airways (bronchioles) and surrounding tissue in the lung. It can affect a small segment of the lung or the entire lung. Bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia isn't associated with infection or lung cancer.

Bronchiolitis is difficult to diagnose, and is often mis-diagnosed. A doctor may make a diagnosis of bronchiolitis based on:

Personal medical history

High-resolution computerized tomography (CT) scan of the lungs

Removal of lung tissue (biopsy) for examination under a microscope

Risk Factors:

Babies less than 6-12 weeks of age

Age 65 or more

Compromised immune system

Having a respiratory disease (Asthma, COPD, Chronic Bronchitis, IPF, Emphysema)

Cystic fibrosis, heart disease


Down syndrome


Ventilator, oxygen, nebulizer treatments, fluids, IV fluid replacement, bronchodilators, steroids, antibiotics, antivirals, NSAIDS (tylenol, ibuprofen)

Bronchiolitis Obliterans is?


Common Respiratory Virus Identified As Cause Of Heart Muscle Damage That Can Lead To Sudden Death

Approximately 40 of every 100,000 Americans suffer from LVD, which costs the US economy an estimated $12 Billion a year. It is not a common disease, but it is eye-catching. LVD is one of the common causes of someone suddenly dropping dead while participating in sports.

LVD can be caused by coronary disease, genetic defect, or even tissue damage from using cocaine. But viruses, almost equally adenoviruses and enteroviruses, have been known as a causative factor of LVD in children and adults for around 50 years. Typically, after recovering from a virus, the person starts feeling bad about 3 weeks later, when the heart becomes enlarged and starts pumping poorly.

It is often difficult to diagnose the cause of LVD, and despite the research that links viruses to LVD in children, many doctors reject the idea that they can cause the same in adults.

Patients who feel poorly several weeks after a flu-like illness should contact their physicians.

Usually symptoms will be fatigue or shortness of breath that continue after recovery from the respiratory illness. A physical exam or chest X-ray can reveal heart enlargement."

For more information on the current Influenza Epidemic, please go to the CDC's H1N1 Info Page:


The Autoimmune Epidemic: What is causing it?


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  • profile image

    Microscope Functions 8 years ago

    Always a pleasure to come across some work that is useful, thankyou for the information keep the good stuff pouring in

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    Thanks for reading, Larry! :) Wish I could find or afford a healer like yours. Sounds like he has the right info for you - I am glad it is helping!

  • Larry Lathrop profile image

    Larry Lathrop 8 years ago from Maryland

    Lots of hard work here, you have my admiration and thanks. My healer has had me on oxygen, hydro, and enzyme therapy for two years now and I,m feeling much better with more energy and rarely get sick now.Your eating tips are similar to my diet with water intake way up. Except that I was diagnosed as carb intolerant which eliminates some traditionally healthy foods like potatoes. I used to take mega doses of vitamins but no more. I'm feeling encouraged after 2+ years being cancer free.

    I appreciate your insight and will continue to follow.

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    NOTE:  I meant to say that at Kroger's the tea is $6 for one box.  At Amazon it is $24.38 for SIX boxes.  Amazon is cheaper - I don't know about shipping, but it can't be too much.  not $12 worth, anyway!  So it is lots cheaper at Amazon.  Get some!  I'm going to.

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    To Peggy W: I found the "Breathe Easy" tea on Amazon - it is quite a bit cheaper than at Kroger. It was $6 something at Kroger's. You can buy it in bulk at Amazon, lots cheaper! :)

    To shamelabboush: Don't be scared. Even if you do catch the H1N1, you will more than certainly not die. I am almost positive that this is the flu I had all winter. I am not dead! (Sure felt like it for a while, though!)

    Only worry about little babies less than 3 mos. old, lung transplant patients, preemies, people with COPD, etc - Bronchiolitis is treatable! And only 40 out of 100,000 people have left ventricular dysfunction (LVD), probably only a small percentage of those were caused by respiratory viruses.

    To frogdropping: :) Thanks for the thumbs and ratings!!!! :)

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

    Very informative. Going to check out that "Breathe Easy" tea the next time I am in a Kroger store.

  • shamelabboush profile image

    shamelabboush 8 years ago

    This is very scary.

  • frogdropping profile image

    Andria 8 years ago

    Magic - I've encountered Bronchiolitis in the youngest of my three children. Rather unpleasant. This was informative and easy to understand for us non-medical folk. I noticed you talked about vitamins etc re advice to another hubber. Personally, I take Echinacea now and then but have only used it when I don't quite feel '100%'. Otherwise, I take multi-vits when autumn (or fall!) comes around.

    Thankyou! Thumbs up! Or is that rated up?!

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    You are so very welcome! :) I love writing these articles, because they require researching, and in the researching, I learn! I love to learn new things, and I believe that one should never stop! If you stop learning, you may as well be dead, as far as I am concerned.

    Thanks very much for reading and for commenting.

  • sabu singh profile image

    sabu singh 8 years ago

    That's a lot of knowledge and research. Thanks for sharing

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    In response to Lisa HW:  I'm sorry you have been feeling sick - I know just how you feel, I had a HORRIBLE respiratory virus over this winter that lasted from just after Christmas, until maybe a week or 2 ago.  I had fever, swollen glands, cough, sore throat, body aches, extreme weakness, and I STILL do not have my voice back all the way. 

    I have COPD, so I got really sick, and my lungs kept filling up with fluid - I was drowning in it - several times I thought I was seriously going to die from it.  I was having to do 10-12 nebulizer treatments a day. 

    And this is for rebeccahappy and everyone else:

    This will sound crazy.  But nothing the doctor prescribed helped me a bit.  It was not until I started drinking some "Breathe Easy" tea, by, which you can otherwise get in the organic section of Kroger stores, that I immediately started feeling better.  I went from 10-12 breathing treatments down to ZERO within hours.  And started getting better from then on.  It has a bunch of natural organic herbs in it, and I am not sure which one did the trick, but I think it may have been the licorice root, which is good for respiratory, and also happens to be an immune system booster.

    I highly recommend this stuff for respiratory flu.  It CURED me!!!

    As far as preventing flu, this is what I recommend:

    (NOTE:  I am not a doctor, and I am not prescribing anything, nor dispensing medical advice, nor telling anybody that these things are going to cure anything, only sharing information that is widely known from research and available to everyone... - there, I satisfied legal stuff...)

    But anyway:

    Reduce stress.  Stress weakens the immune system.

    Start taking vitamins.  A good mega-vitamin is best.  With lots of Vit B Complexes, Vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and Vitamins D & E.  You can take lots of Vitamin C, up to 5,000 mg a day, don't worry, your body excretes the excess...  Don't forget Omega 3 fatty acids.

    Get plenty of sunlight (Vitamin D, proven to help the immune system) and fresh air (oxygenates your cells). 

    Get enough exercise.

    Get plenty of sleep.  (Lack of sleep weakens the immune system)

    Eat a healthy diet. 

    By healthy I mean:

    Get rid of all the meat except for fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. (Meat is nasty dead corpse filled with toxins and diseases!)

    No refined sugar!  Weakens the immune system!

    No refined flours!  Horrible crap!No processed foods!  Contain chemicals and toxins that load your body with garbage and stress out your system!

    Eat only organic!

    Eat an alkaline diet, with as many raw veggies and fruits as you can cram in!  This is living nutrition that your body and cells can use!

    Drink lots of water!

    Avail yourself of herbs and other alternative medicines to build up your immune system.

    Some of these could be:


    Reiki mushrooms


    Licorice root

    Echinacea is not good for influenzas, can contribute to cytokine storm! I still have to do more research on which exact immune-supporting herbs and foods are best for flu - some are actually detrimental!  Some herbs can help prevent a cytokine storm, but others can CAUSE it!  So be sure to research very carefully, before you take these herbs.  I would Google "herbs that prevent cytokine storm in viral infections". Remember that herbs are medicine and have certain side effects that may make them not good for certain people, and can interact negatively with prescription medications.  For example, licorice root is not good for people with high blood pressure, and green tea should not be taken by people who are on blood thinners!  Be sure to research thoroughly before using herbs, and/or consult with your doctor, or a licensed herbologist before you take them!)

    Sounds like a good topic for another article, doesn't it?  :)

    And we all know about staying away from crowds and sick people, disinfecting door knobs, washing our hands, covering our mouths, and properly disposing of kleenexes... that's redundant!

    If you have small babies, are immuno-compromised, if you have a respiratory or heart condition, if you are over age 65, or if you have any of the other conditions mentioned in the above article, you should be especially careful of the influenza virus, because it can cause complications that can make you sicker than the actual flu virus! 

    I found this out myself, the HARD way! 

    Other than those situations, I wouldn't worry too much about this H1N1 thing.  It is very unlikely it will kill you, even if you do get it.  I'm pretty sure that I had it over the winter.  I was sick as a dog for months and thought I would die. 

    But I didn't...   

  • MagicStarER profile image

    MagicStarER 8 years ago from Western Kentucky

    To all who have commented so far:

    To Jackwms: Yes, this did take a lot of research. I'm sure I probably missed quite a bit. But I really racked my brain on this one.

    Recent research shows that viral infectons play a causative role in many autoimmune disorders. I read yesterday, where they have supposedly isolated the virus responsible for causing Fibromyalgia, and will perhaps give hope as far as its prevention and treatment. (I will deal with this in a future hub article)

    As it says in the article, it has been known for around 50 years, that enteroviruses can cause weakening of the heart muscle. They are discovering now, that adenoviruses are equally responsible for LVD. It has also long been understood that cytomegaloviruses are responsible for the development of Diabetes Type I. And of course, it is well known that HIV Virus causes destruction of T Cells and the body's immune response.

    There is much disagreement between physicians, and even among researchers, regarding the exact role of viral infections in post-infection autoimmune diseases. With more research as time goes on, however, the causative role of viruses in these diseases is verified more certainly.

    I would say it is pretty vital that we find out how to wipe out viruses forever! They are destroying our health, causing endless pain and suffering, and costing a fortune in medical bills!

    I wonder if there is somewhere, where you can donate for viral research?

  • Jackwms profile image

    Jackwms 8 years ago

    I'd like to hear from on this.

  • Jackwms profile image

    Jackwms 8 years ago

    I'd like to hear from tony0724 on this

  • Nemingha profile image

    Nemingha 8 years ago

    Thanks for the interesting and informative hub.

  • Jackwms profile image

    Jackwms 8 years ago

    This is a great post and obviously took a lot of research. It will lead me to do some more checking on my own. Permanent damage is, at best, subject to analysis and professional review. I will be reading subsequent comments to see where this goes.

  • rebeccahappy profile image

    rebeccahappy 8 years ago from Canada

    This is agreat description of viruses and how they damamge and pass throuhg communities.It would be interesting to hear of any long term preventative measures someone can taket o build upo their immune suystem so they can circumvent most of these illneses...Do yo have any suggestions?

  • Lisa HW profile image

    Lisa HW 8 years ago from Massachusetts

    Informative Hub. My premie son had bronchiolitis when he was a baby, and it was very scary (for me). As I write this comment I'm recovering from some "lovely" upper-respiratory "thing" and trying to hang onto the shred of what's left of my voice. I'm not sure this was the wisest time for me to be reading about heart damage after infections :) but your Hub is interesting and informative.