Loading Viruses

Occasionally some of our terminology in healthcare has its own set of nuances. We combine words or word-parts to give them more precise and clear meaning, and often they create a unique definition. Take for example, words like symptomology; chemotherapy; biotechnology; or the now-ever-popular term genetic engineering. Then take for example some well-used medical terms that have become mainstream—like the term for a gazillion little strands of RNA, all of which we lump together and call “viral.” Viral loads in laboratory terms indicate diagnostic criteria for the remission or advancement of disease, such as the case in Hepatitis or HIV/AIDS. But it also now means a serious problem with your computer, or the latest cat-video gone rampant on the internet. In my case, it just recently indicated a personalized upper respiratory infection from Central Asia!

Travel has its ups and downs, and at the end of two weeks of wonderful training and interaction with our colleagues in Kyrgyzstan, I succumbed to a “load of virus”—and faced the drudgery of coping with it while cramped into the aisle seat of airplanes, passing time wandering during layovers in foreign terminals, hopping into passport lines and customs checks. With nearly 36 hours of travel ahead of me, I plowed through it all in the fog of decongestants and analgesics and tried desperately not to sneeze or cough—which only made it worse. I’m certainly not the first, nor the last person on the planet to catch a cold, but I was certainly among the most miserable!

Now that the worst is behind me and my diagnosis is just a “horse” and not a “zebra,” I’d be interested in your opinion…is catching a cold considered “a viral load” or just merely “loading a virus?” Just maybe we have a new and even more descriptive term for uploading seasonal cold and flu! Let me know what you think at bsumwalt@pacbell.net and who knows, maybe our new twisted term will actually “go viral.”



Beverly Sumwalt, MA, DLM, CLS, MT(ASCP) is an ASCP Global Outreach Volunteer Consultant.

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