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The very first thing you need to know about coronavirus is that it’s not just one virus, but actually a family of viruses that include not only the new COVID-19, but a few more. The latest COVID-19 started as an epidemic in China, but has soon become pandemic with hundreds of deaths and thousands of infections reported worldwide. But there is a general misconception about the virus, and I want to do my part in clearing out some of the confusions about this. But let me put out this disclaimer. I’m by no means an expert in this, and all my knowledge about coronavirus is purely based on the research I have done in the last few weeks.
Corona Virus Family
As most people think, coronavirus is not a synonym for COVID-19. But COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus. You must have heard of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). These two are also types of coronaviruses. Actually, even the common cold is a type of coronavirus. The new virus that was discovered by the Chinese WHO authorities in January of 2020 is called the “2019 Novel Coronavirus.” This virus is also called the “COVID-19” and “nCoV.”
Coronaviruses affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal parts. Usually, most coronaviruses’ effects are mild. But coronaviruses such as MERS and SARS could be dangerous. The first few COVID-19 cases reported in China in December 2019 started with pneumonia.
The initial occurrence of COVID-19 or nCoV was in a bunch of people associated with the seafood and live animals industry. So there is a strong belief that the virus came to humans from animals. When a virus is transmitted from an animal to a human, it is usually called a spillover. Anyway, after the first bunch of people were affected by nCoV, they suffered from pneumonia. Soon, the virus spread to other people, mostly to the family of those initially affected, and then to the medical staff that was tending to these first set of patients.
The spillover from animals to humans could happen either because of a mutation in the virus or if a human has an extended amount of contact with animals. For example, the MERS was transmitted to humans from camels. And the SARS was transmitted to humans from civet cats. But we still don’t know which animal or animals could transmit nCoV. But how can you contract the virus?
How coronavirus spreads
Coronavirus needs to get inside your body to affect you. This could happen in many ways. To begin with, coronavirus is only transmitted through respiratory secretions, which include the secretions during a cough or a sneeze. Below are some of the ways that we know for sure a person could contract coronavirus:
- If a person affected with coronavirus coughs or sneezes directly on your face.
- If you come in contact with a surface that is contaminated with respiratory secretions of an infected person and then you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands.
And this is the reason all medical professionals are asking us to follow the following precautionary measures:
- Wash your hands as frequently as possible with an alcohol based hand rub or hand wash.
- If you don’t have access to an alcohol based hand wash, use soap and water and wash your hands at regular intervals for at least 20 seconds.
- As soon as you touch a surface which you think is not clean, wash your hands.
- Make sure you’re not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands before washing.
- If you think you have contracted the virus, first go get it checked. And also start wearing a mask so that you don’t spread it.
- If you are taking care of a person who is either suspected or confirmed of being affected by nCoV, make sure you’re keeping yourself hygienic.
So, make sure you wash your hands enough and in general, are aware of what you touch. Also, if you work with live animals a lot, make sure you’re not having too much unprotected contact with animals. But if you do, as usual, wash your hands thoroughly.
What happens when coronavirus enters your body?
All viruses carry either DNA or RNA. All coronaviruses carry RNA. This RNA has all the necessary information which the virus needs to replicate itself, thereby increasing its population. But the virus itself is not capable of replication. In other words, it cannot make copies of itself. This why a lot of people consider such viruses to be non-living. So when such a virus comes in contact with a cell in the human body, it finds a way to enter the cell. For this, the virus needs to find the right type of cell.
Once the virus is inside the cell, it can use the cell and the RNA present in itself to produce the proteins it needs. In other words, the cells in our body which use our DNA to produce proteins for a variety of functions, end up producing more viruses using the RNA from the virus that just entered. This way, the “non-living” virus is able to replicate inside our bodies.
Once the number of such viruses inside the cell increases, the viruses start breaking out of the cell. Once they are out of the cell, they move on to the next cell and start this process over again. As more and more viruses exit the cell, the cell gets damaged to the point where it eventually dies.
As the number of such damaged cells inside our body increases, our immune system realizes that there’s something fishy happening. And this is when our immunity kicks back at the virus. But because it took the immune system some time to figure out that our body is being attacked, the coronavirus, or any other virus, has the upper hand here.
Anyway, once the immune system is up, it starts producing antibodies, which then go out of the cell that produced them and start attacking the viruses. At this point, inside our body, there is a bunch of cells that are infected and are producing more viruses, and another bunch of cells which are healthy and start producing antibodies to kick the viruses out.
Because there are these two things happening, our body temperature increases, which is the fever. This increase in temperature allows the immune system and the white blood cells (WBCs) to function better; and at the same time, become very hostile for the viruses. Also, because there is a demand for WBCs, our bones go into over duty to produce these WBCs. This is why we experience pain and soreness of the bones.
Also, because our body is right now concentrated more on ridding itself of the virus, our day-to-day functions take a small hit. This will cause the weakness in us. In case of coronavirus, there are a bunch of other symptoms that occur, such as sore throat, increase in snot and flem, cough, and dizziness. The increase in snot and flem is so that it becomes difficult for the virus to attach itself to the cell, and also so that the body can get rid of the dead virus and immune cells.
Because these symptoms are so common in case of a coronavirus infection, it is very difficult to diagnose it early. To be sure, there is a test called the Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR for short, which is conducted on respiratory specimens and blood samples to know whether the symptoms are caused by a coronavirus or not.
The Age Factor
If you study the case of COVID-19, you’ll see that the number of people affected increases with age. A lot of elderly people are affected by this virus. This is because of the immune system. Usually, for people in the middle-age group, the immune system is pretty mature (provided the person is healthy). And in most cases, this is enough to fight the virus and get rid of it. But as we age, our immune system starts getting weaker. And this is the reason why aged people are more affected by this. The same is the case for young kids. Their immune system is not mature enough to handle such an attack. But this by no way means that if you’re a healthy middle-aged person, you’re completely immune to coronavirus. Precaution is always better than cure.
To summarize, make sure you’re keeping yourself clean, washing your hands frequently with an alcohol based hand wash or with soap and water, and avoid contact with animals if possible. Also, if you’re a non-vegetarian, make sure the meat is cooked thoroughly before consuming it. The video embedded below by WHO is a good starting point for getting yourself updated with nCoV. Take care and stay safe.