The cold and flu season may be almost over for humans, but watch out for another kind of virus that is spreading like wildfire - computer viruses! If you have seen the news lately you probably know that computers in organizations all over the world have been getting sick from infections like the Melissa virus and the ILOVEYOU. virus. But what exactly IS a virus? What does it mean when a computer gets "infected"?

Computer viruses are sets of code, or instructions, written in computer-language. The instructions of the code say: "When you meet another program like the one you live in right now, make a copy of yourself in that program." This is how the Virus spreads. The ILOVEYOU virus lived in Microsoft Outlook, an email messaging program used by many companies around the world. When someone received an email with ILOVEYOU in the title and opened it, the virus automatically duplicated itself and spread.

Before the Internet, viruses spread very slowly because the only way they could "leap" from computer to computer was through sharing A:/Drive disks. A few people in a company may have shared disks, but the virus would usually stay in one place and be detected before many computers were harmed. Now people use the Internet to share files, send emails and work on programs together. This means a virus can spread from computer to computer all over the world before it is caught.

Viruses can act in different ways, from simply making the letter E disappear off your screen, to destroying all the memory in your hard drive. It is always a good idea to check any unknown files before you open them, especially files that come from the Internet. One way to protect your computer from a virus is to use anti-virus programs. These specially designed programs act like medicine to stop the virus from spreading. For more information on viruses, check out this website: