A virus is typically named for its genetic structure because it is shorthand for the people who work to quickly develop diagnostic tests and subsequent vaccines to prevent, mitigate—tamp down the spread and transmissibility—of a disease. This particular virus, COVID-19, was originally named a “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2), but while related to the original SARS, these two RNA viruses are different; and the first name was thought to cause panic and fear in people, mainly Asians, who were terribly affected in the SARS outbreak of 2003. Although, admittedly, the shape of this virus molecule does resemble a crown, so corona in the name, seemed apt.
History of SARS
Infectious forms of this virus emerged from their natural animal hosts, and thus, pose a threat to humans. The original SARS virus was a product of China’s bat populations, where it transferred to and from civets, (a mammal native to Asia and Africa that looks similar to a long-bodied cat), and then made its way to humans. The Coronavirus that is circulating through the world now (COVID-19) originated in Wuhan City, China, and made thousands sick and killed more than 3,000 people there since it first appeared in December of last year. Experts suppose it may have come from a “wet” market where both live and dead animals are sold. The market typically sells hedgehogs, snakes, seafood, badgers and birds.
How Infection Operates
The RNA viruses enter human cells and a Glycoprotein binds proteins to a cell surface. This is referred to as a “spike protein.” Wildlife infectious disease expert, Tracey Goldstein, from the University of California, Davis, says coronaviruses are prevalent in several species, are relatively unstable, and mutate frequently. A cell’s normal capabilities allow the new entering member into the cell to make copies of itself and these then seek out more cells to replicate. These mutations allow a virus to infect a secondary animal and, as they move, enable it to infect humans—where, scientists believe—it can then travel rather quickly from human to human.
It spreads by person-to-person contact and that can be anyone that allows cough or sneezing particles to land on another within a 6-foot radius (1.8 meters). And, unfortunately, this virus is able to live on a surface for days (but the exact time is not known). Researchers don’t believe it holds up as long as airborne pathogens, such as those that are associated with measles.
What Does the Virus Feel Like?
It may start with flu-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat and respiratory discomfort like shortness of breath. Secondary conditions might be nausea or diarrhea. But this is not the influenza people associate as the virus that responds to antiviral drugs already on the market. Seasonal flu had been studied for a long time—it’s had an estimated 34 million illnesses—and doctors know somewhat what to expect each season.
COVID-19 infected people can have emergency-type reactions and report feeling extremely tired—the inability to arouse—with pressure in the chest, confusion and even bluish lips or face. Pneumonia can develop which can inflame lungs and fill them with pus. The trick for human protection, however, is to develop a serum or vaccine that can be effective against the virus but also be safe for people to take! And, the people who will be most-affected are folks with immune-system breakdowns and diseases such as diabetes, heart and lung illness, or are older adults with health problems. Children can get it also, but being younger, their symptoms may be milder. And currently, the target date for a viable coronavirus vaccine is a year-and-a-half from now. For economic reasons, there are lots of incentives to find a medicine so there is a lot of experimentation that may limit the amount of devastation.
In ancient history large-spread diseases were often referred to as plagues such as the historical Bubonic plague—the Black Death—which was caused by a bacterium related to fleas carried by rats and in which a climate change pushed the animals toward more populated areas.
The Pandemic is caused by an epidemic, that is, a problem out of control—so, an epidemic, is not much different other than it goes from a spreading event (a proportion), to a disease that affects a whole country or, as now the entire world, a pandemic.
Your Protection and Reaction
Let’s talk about your reaction first. It is a given that the Internet while being very educational and informative is also a vehicle for fake news, incorrect anecdotal information, and excessive reaction and panic. Unfortunately, there will always be people that try to capitalize on bad events or opportunities to aggrandize themselves so try not to get caught up in their rhetoric. Just be family-centered and don’t ignore the phenomenon, but don’t aggravate it either. Our federal government and the best scientists and researchers ask citizens to “hunker down.” What does that really mean? Well, for example, Italy was especially hard-hit by COVID-19 and the indigenous peoples are not allowed to travel, their government has blocked incoming movement, and they are told to stay at home lest they contract or spread the virus. There is a clever little video that has recorded some of their ideas about the constraints and you can find it in the reference below.
Basically, just stay with your family at home—most group-oriented events and gatherings will be cancelled until the numbers of infections and deaths die down. You will hear that referred to as “Social Distancing.” This isolation means a widespread disruption to many lives but keep in mind this is the responsible thing to do. No one really knows how long this will be, but suffice it to say, by staying out of the mainstream, you are helping to curb the spread.
Yes, you will get tired of the directives about washing your hands over and over. But that is broadcast for a reason: these viruses do not hold up under regular soap and water washing. You should aim for a real hand-scrubbing and sing the Happy Birthday song to test the duration. You can also wipe down areas in your home with disinfectants or a diluted bleach. Hand sanitizers work best if they contain alcohol but that’s drying on your skin.
Should you develop mild symptoms, call your physician but stay at home drinking liquids to hydrate, and treat it as you would for any other respiratory illness: also, keep and dispose of your own tissues, stay warm, get as much sleep as possible and keep track of more serious warning signs. Diagnostic tests (which they are ramping up in distribution) are mainly conducted by taking swabs of your nose and throat to find viral genetic material. Serological tests using blood to discover antibodies (after being exposed to a new pathogen) and are in development. Face masks are worn to prevent sneeze and cough droplets from landing on other people’s hands or mouth when you are ill yourself.
C&en. Chemical & Engineering News. “What we do and don’t know about the novel coronavirus.”
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Symptoms
John Hopkins Dashboard (a global tracking and mapping system)
World Health Organization. “Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it”