With the announcement about the aggressive flu outbreak in Boston, which led to Mayor Tom Menino calling for a health emergency in the city, Harvard University was kind enough to supply people with a step-by-step guide explaining how the flu virus attacks cells and gets you sick.
It was pretty heavy stuff, and we fell asleep half-way through, so we decided to break it down for you by using photos of the Fenway Park robbery scene from Ben Affleck’s movie “The Town.”
How the Flu Works:
According to Harvard medical experts, Influenza Viruses are tiny infectious agents that “cannot live and reproduce unless they infect and get inside our cells.”
Think of them as Affleck and his crew of gangsters, looking to break into Fenway to get their hands on some cash, so that they, too, can live. But to do so, it will affect the lives of others.
First, as pictured here, the “agents,” or “gangsters,” need to figure out how to get inside.
Then, the brown protein spikes grab onto little yellow v-shaped structures (called receptors) on the outer wall of your cell (the cell membrane). The tip of the spike is like a key, and the receptor is like a lock: if the key fits the lock, the virus sticks to your cell. If it sticks, it then is able to enter your cell. Once the virus is inside your cell, it travels through the main part of the cell, the cytoplasm, heading toward the center of the cell, the nucleus.
The Town Explanation:
Once the “gangsters” figure out a way to get inside Fenway Park by pretending they are cops, they can walk around in the back hallways and work their way to the cash deposit area and have easier access to the things that make you feel good. Like money. Or your health.
As the virus nears the nucleus, it starts to come apart. Its genes enter your cell’s nucleus, along with chemicals called polymerases that can copy and multiply its genes.
As the gangsters dressed as cops get closer to the cash, they split up to make sure that everything goes according to plan. Some stay back in the ambulance getaway car while others tie up security guards.
Once inside the nucleus, the viral genes start to use your cell’s energy supply and the chemicals called polymerases to make thousands of copies of themselves. Then they move out of the nucleus and back into the cytoplasm of your cell.
Once Affleck fills up duffle bags full of cash, they move as fast as they can to get the hell out of Fenway Park, so that Affleck can go meet some really pretty girl on some remote Island and forget about being a gangster.
In the cytoplasm, the virus’s genes make lots of new viral proteins, including the brown protein spikes. These viruses have a new mission: they need to break free of the cell they are in and go on to infect new cells. They push out against the membrane of the cell, forming little buds, trying to get free.
Affleck has to force his way out of Fenway Park and kill off a bunch of police officers, causing lots of damage in Boston, in order to get out of there. Sometimes, you lose a couple of your gangster cohorts in the process, as they barge through walls in getaway trucks.
Most of the budding viruses do get free: little chemical scissors cut them loose, allowing them to find new cells to infect. And so the same cycle we’ve just seen begins again, in another cell. That’s how a flu virus infects your cells.
During the shootout to escape to safety, some people in the movie get killed, others get hurt, but some do get away. And John Hamm is forever angry with himself for not just washing his hands from the very beginning. Always wash your hands, folks.