The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is changing our lives daily. In December 2019, we began hearing about the viral outbreak in China but never imagined the dramatic impact it would have on the world in just three short months. While we know most people reading this have heard of the pandemic, there is a lot of confusing, contradictory and even false information through the news, social media and word of mouth. So, we would like to set the facts straight and give everyone a simple view of the coronavirus and the situation at hand.
What even is a virus?
A virus is an infectious agent that enters a living organism in order to utilize the organism’s cellular machinery to reproduce. A virus can infect all types of life including animals, plants and even bacteria, all of which can be referred to as hosts.1 Without a host, viruses are static, not replicating but still surviving (imagine a bear in hibernation). Examples of well-known viruses are AIDS, smallpox, the common cold, influenza, rabies, herpes and many more. You’ve probably heard of most, if not all, of these viruses and know that they are able to cause disease in humans or other organisms. When a virus comes into contact with a host cell, it inserts its genetic material into the cells of the host, literally taking over.1
Think of this as pirates taking over a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean. The cargo ship workers are still providing the labor but now they’re under the control of the pirates.
Now the host cell isn’t producing its normal products, it is under the control of the virus, and is producing viral particles.1 As the host’s immune system tries to fight off the virus and destroy these viral particles, symptoms of disease occur, such as a fever and inflammation. Common viruses, like influenza and rabies, have vaccines. Vaccines work by exposing the immune system to a small amount of the foreign virus. This way, when the immune system encounters this virus again, it has a quicker and more effective response.2 However, in the case of viruses that have only recently been identified in humans (COVID-19), vaccines have not yet been made.
We’ve dealt with a coronavirus before.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses (that’s right, there are more coronaviruses than just COVID-19!), and this isn’t the first time the world has dealt with one of them. COVID-19 is actually the THIRD time in the past two decades that a coronavirus has resulted in severe human disease.3 In 2002, China dealt with the emergence of a coronavirus that originated in bats and was transferred to humans through a palm civet cat (imagine a racoon/cat cross). This coronavirus (SARS) infected over 8000 people, killing more than 900 (11% mortality), before being contained.3 Ten years later in 2012, another coronavirus emerged in the Middle East. This virus (MERS) was transferred from bats to camels to humans, infecting over 2000 people and killing more than 800 (34% mortality).3
How did humans get COVID-19 in the first place?
If the history of the coronavirus sounds familiar, that’s because it is. COVID-19 originated at a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Much like SARS and MERS, COVID-19 originated in bats and was transferred to humans through an unidentified intermediate animal (NOT through the consumption of bat soup).3 After the original diagnosis, cases of COVID-19 began to increase exponentially. Some of the cases involved individuals who had never come into contact with the seafood market, suggesting that the virus was able to spread from person to person.3 As The Chinese Lunar New Year approached, the large social gatherings in China fueled the spread of the virus and other Chinese provinces and other countries quickly had confirmed cases. Because not all people infected with the virus show symptoms, it is expected that the number of infected individuals is actually much higher than reports indicate.3
Why should I participate in social distancing?
One of the earlier coronaviruses, MERS, is still not considered contained by the World Health Organization, and between 2012 and 2020 there have been 2,494 cases and 858 deaths as a result of infection. In comparison, from December to February China alone reported 75,528 COVID-19 cases and 1,870 deaths.4 While this does mean that less people will die as a result of infection, the virus is spreading so fast that more people have died in months as compared to 8 years from MERS. One reason for this quick rate of transmission is the high number of mild and asymptomatic cases.4 This is why social distancing is so important to decreasing the number of cases. Even if you feel healthy, there is a possibility that you are a carrier and could pass the virus to someone else. The incubation period for COVID-19, or the time between getting infected and showing symptoms, is thought to be around 5.2 days.5 It is still possible to infect other people during this time. This means for about 5 days, before you even realize you are sick, there is a risk of spreading the virus to those around you. While COVID-19 can not replicate on its own, it is stable on surfaces for hours to days.6 However, transmission appears to be happening mostly from person to person, either through direct contact or droplets produced from coughing and sneezing.5
Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention
The most common symptoms of COVID-19 infection are fever, dry cough, fatigue, and sore throat; however, a full list is in the figure.5 Testing is completed through a nasal swab. It is currently recommended by the CDC that people showing mild symptoms do not receive testing; however, these people should still isolate themselves.7 Because COVID-19 is a virus, treatment options are currently limited. Current antiviral medications are not effective against COVID-19, but health professionals can help alleviate some of the subsequent symptoms or secondary diseases, such as pneumonia.7
The CDC currently recommends frequently washing your hands for 20 seconds, especially following being out in public, and avoiding touching your face, mouth, and nose.7 However, social distancing is the key player in preventing infection.
Yes, the coronavirus is frightening, BUT it’s not a reason to buy a colossal amount of toilet paper or sell all of your stock. COVID-19 is a reason to wash your hands and stay away from anyone who might be immunocompromised (senior citizens, cancer patients, newborns, etc). Doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers are working past exhaustion to help combat COVID-19. Parking garages are being converted into hospital rooms and there is a WORLDWIDE shortage of ventilators. So please, be a responsible citizen and practice social distancing. Help to flatten the curve, allowing for those already infected to get the attention they need, while we prevent contaminating others to the best of our ability. Take this time to learn a new language, jump start spring cleaning or get some much-needed rest. Above all, STAY POSITIVE. Trust in science and your medical professionals and know that COVID-19 is only a phase!
Thanks for reading and make sure to check back next week for the launch of our introductory series! In the meantime, let us know if you have any questions, comments or feedback and don’t forget to follow/ like us!
PS – Remember this pandemic in the future and MAKE SURE TO GET YOUR VACCINATIONS.
Written by Annah and Megan
Illustrated by Rhea
Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals. If you believe you may be showing symptoms of COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider. Further, the opinions in this post are our opinions and in no way reflect the opinions of our mentors or The Medical University of South Carolina.
- Singhal, T. A Review of Coronavirus Disease-2019 (COVID-19). Indian J Pediatr 87, 2020, 281–286. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12098-020-03263-6
- Wu, Z., & McGoogan, J. M. (2020). Characteristics of and Important Lessons From the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Outbreak in China: Summary of a Report of 72 314 Cases From the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Jama, 2019, 3–6. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.2648
- Rothan, H. A., & Byrareddy, S. N. (2020). The epidemiology and pathogenesis of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak. Journal of Autoimmunity, February, 102433. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaut.2020.102433