Due to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 situation constantly evolving, we are updating this page regularly.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that get their name from a halo or “corona” that circle the virus. This halo can be seen surrounding the virus using an electron microscope.
They are Ribonucleic Acid (RNA) viruses, a type of genetic material that cause different diseases in mammals and birds. Some viruses are zoonotic, jumping from another species like an animal or bat, to a human host.
The more famous and deadly RNA viruses are Polio, Measles, Ebola, West Nile fever, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Hepatitis C and E, Influenza (known as the flu) and the common cold.
The latest coronavirus is Coronavirus disease 2019, called COVID-19 or SARS-CoV02. It’s first confirmed case is suspected to be in the Fall of 2019 in Wuhan, China, with a possibility of the virus being around even earlier. https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/42669767/Satellite_Images_Baidu_COVID19_manuscript_DASH.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
Most scientists believe that COVID-19 came from a bat, as COVID-19’s closest similar virus is a bat virus which shares roughly 96% of it’s makeup. There is speculation if COVID-19 was released by accident from a lab in Wuhan, China that specializes in these types of viruses, or if it jumped from bats to humans in the form of protein sold as food to humans in the Wuhan “wet-markets” where such delicacies are sold.
The virus has spikes that attach themselves to a protein on the surface of our cells, called ACE2. When this coronavirus attaches to the outer membrane, it changes it so that the virus and membrane fuse together, allowinging the virus’s RNA to get into the cell.
It then takes over the cell’s protein making factory, changing the instructions so it begins making new copies of itself. It does this quickly, as within a few hours it can make thousands of copies, which go on to infect nearby healthy cells.
How does the human body fight back against COVID-19?
The standard immune response is that the body’s temperature begins to rise in an effort to destroy the virus. The body begins to produce more white blood cells, existing white blood cells begin to hunt down, consume and destroy cells that have been infected, they create toxic chemicals and cytokines that prevent the virus from replicating.
However the body’s response can be part of the problem if the fever created to destroy the virus cooks the body’s own proteins. Too much production of cytokines can lead to hyper-inflammation which is extremely detrimental to the body.
There is a race between the body and how quickly it can defend itself and how quickly the virus can damage it. If the initial dose of the virus is mild, in the upper respiratory area and the person is healthy with no other health issues, the body seems to do a good job of repelling the virus.
However, if the virus makes it to the lower respiratory tract, namely the lungs, it can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. If the lungs cannot process oxygen properly, the patient may be forced to be put on a ventilator. This lack of oxygen is extremely detrimental to the patient, leading to a weakened body and possible secondary infections. Also, there is a possibility of an immune response, nick-named “cytokine storm”, that leads to hyper-inflammation, with the body attacking its own cells, tissues and organs in an effort to fight the virus. Cytokines can initiate cell death. When a lot of cytokines attack lung tissue, this can lead to pneumonia and blood that lacks oxygen. This is why people with asthma should take extra precautions to make sure they don't catch COVID-19.The aforementioned cytokine attacks are being countered with drugs that block the cytokine IL-6 receptor. One such drug that has been used is Actemra, a rheumatoid arthritis drug. In this case, it“disabled (the patient’s) inflammatory response by blocking specific cytokines called interleukin-6 or IL-6”.
There are three stages with multiple symptoms.
Stage I is the early infection stage, which usually runs for five days after catching the virus. Symptoms can be asymptomatic (meaning you really don’t exhibit and symptoms) or you have a fever and other mild symptoms like aches, pains or a cough.
Stage II, which is known as the pulmonary phase usually occurs during the sixth day to the tenth. Symptoms are shortness of breath, or low oxygen in the blood. This low blood oxygen is called hypoxemia and can be measured with a pulse oximeter (pulse ox) that is relatively inexpensive and sold at local drug stores or on Amazon.com, but x-rays and CT scans by your doctor will determine if there is fluid build-up in the lungs.
The body’s normal immune response decreases and the dangerous inflammatory response that we discussed earlier increases. This stage is broken into two parts, designated A and B to determine if the body is more in the viral stage or moving towards the inflammatory stage.
Stage III is where the body immune system is in a hyperinflammation phase.
This usually occurs around day ten. Symptoms are acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a build-up of fluid in the lungs, which have the following signs: Shortness of breath, rapid and shallow breathing, high pulse, phlegm while coughing, extremities like fingertips, or lips or even skin turning blue due to lack of oxygen, fatigue, fever, confusion, change in blood pressure, chest pain or a crackling sound in the lungs.
Lack of oxygen in the blood can lead to organ failure or multiple organ failure. Other symptoms are systemic inflammatory response syndrome, shock, heart failure, kidney damage and organ failure. The lungs can be suffering from cytokine storms, which can cause respiratory failure.