The coronavirus, explained

by Arhana Aatresh | May 19, 2020

The world has been sent into varying states of chaos ever since a deadly respiratory illness known as COVID-19, or the coronavirus, started to spread through six continents in the past few months. As of May 8, there have been almost four million total cases and 273,852 deaths reported from around the world, and the numbers are continuing to rise.

The current outbreak is caused by a new strain of the coronavirus titled SARS-CoV-2, while the resulting disease is called COVID-19. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses named for their crown-like shape. They cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the latter of which widely spread in 2003. Reports suggest that COVID-19 is killing patients by infecting and killing lung cells, therefore clogging a patient’s airways—similar to SARS. Researchers also believe that COVID-19 accesses intestine-lining cells and infects the gut. Additionally, new symptoms such as loss of taste and smell are being discovered, and the virus has been found to form blood clots that lead to strokes. Unfortunately, because many symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to those of the flu, doctors are unable to diagnose cases based solely on symptoms. Thus, the only way to be absolutely certain of infection would be a professionally administered test. However, coronavirus tests are in short supply, along with personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other desperately-needed supplies.

Researchers have discovered that the virus spreads through droplets from an infected patient, and virus particles can live on a surface for up to three days. Also, unlike the common cold-causing strain, the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc on most of the body’s organs. It has killed 7% of its patients and is over 10 times deadlier than the flu. While young children seem to be mostly unaffected by the virus, those at an older age or with chronic medical conditions appear to be at a higher risk of contracting the disease.

The coronavirus is believed to have mutated from its original host, bats, to be able to infect humans. The first cases were found in Wuhan, China in late 2019, when many people began showing symptoms such as fevers, coughs, and shortness of breath, with many cases escalating to pneumonia. Ever since, the virus has spread quickly around the globe, with the biggest impact on the United States, Italy, and Spain.

Response to the outbreak has been widespread. On March 18, China claimed a halt of new local coronavirus cases in twenty-four hours due to its extreme lockdown and limited travel across borders. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with experts to expand their knowledge about the coronavirus in order to track its spread and advise countries on prevention measures. Hospital ships providing more hospital beds and medical care are docking in U.S. ports. Companies are working to create biological combatants in the form of antibodies, which neutralize the virus already in the body, and vaccines, to make the body immune before it is threatened. The antiviral drug Remdesivir, originally developed to combat Ebola, is being tested, and has been found to decrease the duration of symptoms.

The effect of the virus is just as contagious as the pathogen itself. The U.S. economy had one of its worst quarters in history from January to March, while schools across the world are shutting down with no reopening date in sight. Social distancing and shelter-in-place orders are being enforced, preventing daily activities such as working and socializing. Fortunately, studies have shown that social distancing is working, and continuing the practice will help “flatten the curve,” or slow the spread of the infection.

As of May 8, over one million people have recovered, fueling optimism around the world. Global organizations are aggressively working to combat this virus, and every day is another step forward to eradicating the virus. Until then, we can do our part by following CDC guidelines, wearing masks in public, and complying with social distancing.

Categories: Science

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