Viruses are everywhere, and it seems like new ones pop up all the time. But what exactly is a virus? Your kids want to know, so use these virus worksheets for kids to help explain what viruses are, how they make us sick, and how we can prevent viruses from infecting.
Viruses are like hijackers, for cells. This is why bad pieces of computer codes are called “viruses”, because just like real viruses, they can “infect” a computer, hijack or take over the programming, and make the computer do what it wants.
Unlike computers though, humans don’t come with universal anti-virus protection.
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Recommended Virus Books for Kids
Kids love learning about their own bodies — especially the icky stuff. So use these books to teach them about the wonderful world of microbes, good and bad. Germs like bacteria and viruses won’t stand a chance after you teach them the “ninja” antigerm way.
The Bacteria Book: The Big World of Really Tiny MicrobesRhyming Book for KidsVinnie and Vicki – The Vibrant Viruses!Anti-germs kids: A funny way to learn about fighting germs / protect yourself from the viruses by a few simple techniquesPick, Spit & Scratch: The Science of Disgusting Habits
What is a virus?
So what is a virus anyway? Well it’s actually not even technically “alive”. Viruses require a “host” to live and reproduce. A host can be any kind of living cell — plant, animal, bacteria or fungus. A virus is a tiny package of “code” or DNA (or RNA, depending on the virus) covered in stuff (called the envelope on your virus worksheets) that makes it friendly to living cells, like proteins.
How do viruses cause illness?
All cells have DNA and RNA. This is the stuff that tells the cell what to do. It’s the “program” of the cell, like the software on a computer. When a virus gets inside a cell, it’s DNA program takes over, and hijacks the cell.
That’s what ends up making us sick. The virus tells the cell to make more virus copies, instead of what the cell was supposed to do. Eventually the cell dies, and all the copies of the virus burst out to find new cells to infect. This can happen quite quickly, which is why viruses can spread so fast.
Virus vs bacteria – what is the difference?
Unlike viruses, bacteria are alive. They are cells that try to destroy the cells of whatever creature they are infecting, usually by eating them. Bacteria can be treated easily by the human body, and by medicines known as antibacterials or antibiotics.
Unfortunately, viruses can’t be stopped by antibiotics. While the body can rid itself of many viruses, some of them can be quite challenging. The problem is that viruses hang out inside our cells, and that shelters them from medicines — and from the body’s own defenses.
We have developed some antiviral medicines that can help treat virus infections, but generally, viruses are a lot harder to treat than bacterial infections.
That’s why vaccines are important. Vaccines introduce a weakened form or a dead form of a virus to help the body create the specialized defense it needs to fight off an infection.
That way, when a real version comes along, your body can recognize it faster, and fight it better, meaning you’re not going to get infected.
There’s one kind of virus that scientists find quite useful – the bacteriophage. You’ll find it on your virus worksheets. This is a special kind of virus that actually infect harmful bacteria! Scientists and doctors have used certain bacteriophages to fight bacterial infections instead of using antibiotics.
Another kind of virus is one that has been created to help treat other diseases. This kind of virus, called a vector, can be used to deliver genetic code to the cells of people who might have mistakes in their genetic codes.
And then the new codes can help those people’s bodies create the missing proteins or hormones they need to treat their disease.
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