Countless reports about the novel Coronavirus have been released. Cases and deaths have reached record numbers. States and even whole countries are on lockdown or in quarantine in attempt to control this perilous pandemic. The decrease in socialization, or social distancing, is starting to reap positive benefit in China as well as other countries around the world. Many people just watch the news, but it may help for some to know the science behind the virus.
COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China. It is believed to have been sourced in a laboratory. From China, the virus quickly spread through the air from person to person. At the start of the infection in the US, the virus appeared to only severely affect the elderly and those who are immunocompromised, meaning they’ve got a weakened immune system that could be due to underlying health conditions, or those that do have underlying health conditions. As the months dragged on, more people who didn’t fit that exact mold seemed to be getting sick. Little kids to healthy adults caught this new virus and some cases were severe. Death tolls rose and people started to panic. Even those who didn’t show symptoms suddenly were testing positive. The virus is now a pandemic and a scary one at that. What exactly is the Coronavirus though?
COVID-19 is a virus, and viruses occur in the natural world. These are pathogens that are both alive and dead as they have characteristics of both. A virus needs a host to live and reproduce so it is considered dead, but it also creates its own genes, either RNA or DNA, showing that it is alive as well. This virus is one of those.
According to an article in LiveScience, the host cells have the mechanisms for the virus to replicate and therefore, infect the host. This process within the host allows viruses to produce RNA from the host’s DNA, allowing proteins to be built and passages into cells. When a virus is ready to infect, it is known as a virion. A virion consists of an inner nucleic core (where the genes are held) and the area is surrounded by proteins, knowns as a capsid. The capsid protects the genes from being attacked by the host cells. Finally, on top of the capsid is another protective layer that is called the envelope and is created using little bits from the cell membrane of the host that the virus modifies and uses.
The primary role of the virus is to deliver its genes to the host cell so that those genes can be transcribed and expressed by said host cell. Viruses get to a cell through an opening in the body such as cuts, or the eyes and mouth. Once the virus is inside the host, it will attach to cell surface receptors and are able to move through the membrane. Once this process is done, the virus disrupts normal parts of the cell and releases its own genes into the host cell, starting an infection.
Now what does this pathogen look like and what are the basics to understand?
According to John Hopkins Medicine, ‘Corona’ means crown and this particular family of viruses are shaped like a crown under the microscope. Different coronaviruses can cause other, common diseases in humans, such as the cold and other respiratory illnesses. Still other species can infect animals and on rare occasions, such as COVID-19, it is possible that the virus jumped from animal to human.
This particular strain is getting so much attention because it is new and unpredictable. There is no cure for it, and it is affecting every differently, plus it is spreading fast with no cure right now. The virus moves through the air from person to person; the droplets containing the virus can stay aloft for about 6ft, hence the mandatory 6ft rule for social distancing that we should all be practicing, though it is still not entirely clear if that is the main way of transport or if touch could be involved.
But, our bodies are also designed to deal with and catch those viruses in the process. There are common viruses that we encounter every day, sometimes you may not even know about it. The body is well equipped to protect against any invaders and most of the time, that’s exactly what it does and will continue to do until the end of life.
For COVID-19, not only are bodies a layer of protection, but all the government and health officials are doing everything in their own power to isolate and determine cases of this novel virus.