The media and news are full of information about the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. But what exactly is a virus and why can it be so harmful to people? While a virus is typically not inherited from one generation to the next, it can be passed from person to person. Viruses have been around for a long time, and constantly evolve and change.
Viruses are basically very tiny parasites- they cannot survive on their own. They need a host to “use” temporarily to reproduce. A virus actually has some similar key elements that all living creatures have, genetic instructions called DNA or RNA that make up who we are. Except we use these genetic instructions to grow, heal, and reproduce. A virus only houses these genetic instructions, they can’t act on them unless they have help. Once a virus enters our body it uses our cells and genetic instructions to build itself and reproduce itself. By creating more copies of itself, it can then spread to another host, often by sneezing or coughing, breathing, saliva, or blood.
There have been many famous viruses in the past, such as Ebola, Yellow Fever, or H1N1. The most recent virus that has become well known is the Coronavirus. The Coronavirus originates from a group of viruses called coronaviruses and is known to cause disease in both humans and animals. The human coronavirus was identified years ago in the 1960s. The virus typically causes mild cases of the common cold that could possibly lead to infection or pneumonia. There have been a few more types of severe coronaviruses, including the SARS coronavirus in 2002-2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus that manifested itself in 2012. The current coronavirus, or COVID-19 has mutated and evolved and is also referred to as the “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
COVID-19 emerged in the city of Wuhan in central China in December of 2019. The virus was identified because of a group of patients with pneumonia and were all connected to a live animal market. Eventual testing of this group of patients identified an unknown coronavirus. Chinese authorities and researchers quickly discovered the virus and shared their findings which led to worldwide development of diagnostic tests for the COVID-19.
Currently we know that the severe form of the current coronavirus is mainly being identified in older adults. It is unclear if other risk factors are affecting this age group as well to cause a more severe form of the disease. Information is still being gathered on milder forms of the virus and in other age groups. By the end of February, 50 countries have identified cases of the coronavirus. COVID-19 appears to spread primarily through droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. The virus has also been found in blood and stool, which may mean that there are other routes of entry for this virus. The symptoms of the coronavirus are typically fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
The important thing to remember is that research of the COVID-19 is ongoing, and we are still discovering just how serious the coronavirus is. There are many helpful sources to continue to get updated information, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization. What we currently know according to the CDC is that it’s important to wash your hands and not touch your face!
Cheng, AC, Williamson, DA. An outbreak of COVID-19 caused by a new coronavirus: what we know so far. March 8, 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32146721