Coronavirus Science Now + Beyond

Here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19

As the world adjusts to its ‘new normal’ of fighting over toilet paper, uploading dance videos to Tik Tok, and partaking in an infinite number of Zoom calls during this pandemic, it’s easy enough to be distracted from the key information being shared around COVID-19.

And it’s just as easy to get lost in the chaos of information surrounding the pandemic as well. Here’s everything you need to know about COVID-19 – a virus that has infected 3.94 million people and taken the lives of near 300,000 – from where it originated, what it is, how it’s transmitted, its symptoms, and where the world stands in terms of a cure.

What is a coronavirus?

It’s infected 3.94 million people and taken the lives of near 300,000.

Coronaviruses are not a new phenomenon in our world. They have been a source of contention throughout our history and are a large family of viruses which may cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Corona (not the Mexican-heritage beer) is Latin for ‘crown’ and refers to the crown-like spikes on the virus’s surface when viewed under an electron microscope. Sometimes coronaviruses infecting animals can evolve to cause disease in humans and become a new (novel) coronavirus for humans which is the case with COVID-19 (Corona Virus Disease 2019, the year referring to when the first case was found).

Where did the virus originate?

It originated in bats and then jumped to humans.

The virus was first reported in Wuhan, China in late December of 2019. The majority of the case-patients initially identified were dealers and vendors at a seafood, poultry and live wildlife market in Jianghan District of Hubei Province, leading to the argument that the virus has a zoonotic (a disease that normally exists in animals but can infect humans) origin. Scientists have since determined that the likeliest scenario is for COVID-19 to have originated in bats and then jumped to humans, similar to hows the SARS epidemic spread in early 2000s.

So, as much as Trump wishes us to believe that COVID-19 escaped from a lab in Wuhan, there is simply no evidence to this claim, and the origins of the virus remain to be a contested and controversial topic. Some theories (that have since been proved false) include that the virus was part of a Chinese “covert biological weapons programme” or that a Canadian-Chinese spy team had sent it to Wuhan.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 can affect people in different ways; however, the most common symptoms appear to be a fever, dry cough and tiredness, which can take anywhere from five to 14 days to appear.

Less common symptoms include aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell, a rash on the skin, or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Symptoms can take anywhere from five to 14 days to appear.

According to the World Health Organization, serious symptoms include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure and loss of speech or movement. You should immediately seek medical attention if you present serious symptoms but always call before visiting your doctor or nearest medical facility.

What happens when COVID-19 enters the body?

Transmission of the virus occurs when droplets of water containing the virus are expelled by an infected person in a cough or sneeze. If COVID-19 were to successfully enter the human body (through the eyes, nose, or mouth), it would immediately aim for the lungs.

Once on the epithelial cells lining the lungs, the virus would attach to a receptor (ACE2 in the case of COVID-19) to impart its genetic material into the cell. The cell then carries out the virus’s instructions; multiplying the virus within itself. At a certain point, the cell disintegrates, allowing for the multiplied particles of the virus to roam freely out and attack neighboring cells. After a few days, the number of infected cells has grown exponentially within the lungs allowing for outward symptoms to appear on a human infected with COVID-19.

How does one prevent the spread of COVID-19?

Stay at home, wash your hands, and social distance! Avoid touching the eyes, mouth, and nose especially.

Put simply, the virus spreads more easily when people are in close proximity to one another. If you cough and sneeze in a large crowd, it is very likely that those water droplets landed onto someone else. If you are around no one, if those water droplets land onto a surface (such as a doorknob) and another person touches it, then they now have those germs on their skin.

If you do have to leave the house, take the necessary precautions such as wearing a face mask and standing at least 1 metre away from other people in the vicinity.

Washing your hands with soap and water is also very important. COVID-19 is encased in a lipid or fat. Soap destroys this fat, causing the virus to be unable to sustain itself.

Is there any cure, vaccine or treatment for COVID-19?

Right now – no.

So be aware of fake or misleading cures circulating social media. One such claim – shared 16,000 times on Facebook – advises users in the Philippines to “keep your throat moist”, avoid spicy food, and load up on vitamin C in order to prevent the disease. The information is said to be from the country’s Department of Health but it does not match the advice on the DOH website or its official press releases on the outbreak.

There is no cure yet but a vaccine is being worked on.

Another unsubstantiated claim shared online suggests avoiding cold or preserved food and drinks, such as ice cream and milkshakes, for “at least 90 days”. Others are peddling “plague protection kits” which claims to shield people from the virus and some scammers are asking for credit card details to be uploaded onto websites promising a COVID-19 cure.

The search for a cure that will put an end to it all is a long and difficult one and many countries are partaking in the search for a possible vaccine – to teach people’s immune systems to recognize and fend off the virus before an infection can take hold – for the virus, each with their own budgets and timelines of when a viable one can be released to the public.

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute is comparatively close to a vaccine as they have already acquired safety data from human trials of similar vaccines for the related coronavirus that causes MERS. The European Union’s research commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, is positive that there will be a vaccine by the end of 2020.

Several companies are developing or testing antivirals against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Antivirals target the virus in people who already have an infection. They work in different ways, sometimes preventing the virus from replicating, other times blocking it from infecting cells.

New information is always coming out concerning the virus and the pandemic. For now, however, this is the information we have – so let’s stay at home, wash our hands and focus on our next Tik Tok dance challenge.