Last Night’s TV – Horizon: Why Do Viruses Kill?

by Lynn Connolly

Oh goody, I thought as I sat down to watch Horizon. Yet another programme to scare the bejesus out of our already very spooked society, and me, being a member of said society. But the question of the title didn’t seem to be answered, unless I missed it somehow.

I did glean though that viruses that bump us off do so by accident; after all, what use a dead host? It would seem they don’t mean to kill us – we’re their landlord and livelihood after all – but do so by cleverly/stupidly reinventing themselves so our immune systems can’t recognise them and therefore evict their snotty, phlegmy selves.

There were some nifty graphics along the way though, and some rather amazing facts and figures. For instance, did you know that you could fit no less then 50,000 little rhinoviruses onto the head of a pin? Well you can.

And of course the belatedly topical subject of swine flu – or H1N1 to give it its proper name – came up, as did the reasons why all the science bods got the dire predictions wrong, and in short, it’s because in terms of understanding viruses, we’re as Neanderthals beating them with clubs.

Despite zillions of pounds, dollars, yen and every other world currency being lobbed at bespectacled and studious lab dwellers in the hope one of them will crack the killing code of the virus, it’s yet to happen.

So will it ever? Probably. Will it be too late to save us all from some dire pandemic that does actually turn out to be as lethal as we’re told it will? Probably. Did this Horizon episode answer the question of its title then? No, but it was still an interesting watch.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.