SARS-CoV-2 travels all over the world, using humans as living hosts. Experts believe the natural hosts are bats or pangolins. Both are decreasing in population. Could that have made humans an attractive host? Every day, since January, SARS-CoV-2 has meandered through the world, creating deadly “hot spots” out of public gatherings. The respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2 is COVID-19.
The virus was detected in December, perhaps earlier. Then China alerted the World Health Organization to a cluster of cases of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan China. On January 20, 2020, a month later, the United States confirmed its first case in Washington State. From there, the world watched COVID-19 spread from China to Italy, killing thousands.
So, what is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a deadly, highly contagious respiratory illness caused by SARS-CoV-2, a member of the Coronavirus family. Coronaviruses cause the common cold as well as SARS and MERS.
What is a virus? A virus is a nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA, protected by a protein layer called a capsid. The complete virus package is called a virion. Experts don’t consider them a living organism because they require a living host to replicate or produce energy. However, many viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, survive on surfaces for short periods ranging from hours to days to perhaps weeks.
How is the COVID-19 virus transmitted?
The coronavirus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets that ultimately reach the back of the throat or upper airways. Coughing, sneezing, or even breathing or talking produce respiratory droplets that spread the infection. In this way, the COVID-19 virus spreads across the world through the airways of human hosts.
Another growing source of infection is community-acquired from virus-contaminated surfaces. Studies suggest viral particles can survive on surfaces for hours to days and even weeks. It’s not clear whether the presence of viral particles means contagion. That said, contaminated surfaces are a potential source of infection.
Anyone can become infected at any age. Data suggests the elderly or those with obesity, immunocompromised states, or underlying chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of death than those who are healthy. Caution though! Don’t be lulled into thinking just because you’re young and healthy you can’t suffer respiratory distress or multi-organ failure and death.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Most symptomatic patients have a cough, fever, fatigue, or muscle aches. Some patients have flu-like symptoms such as a runny nose and nasal congestion, and others have gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting.
Difficulty breathing, persistent chest tightness, or coughing up blood are reasons to seek evaluation.
Once in the upper airways, viral replication and destruction progress to the lower airways, rapidly leading to what’s called ARDS, acute respiratory distress syndrome. Severe respiratory distress, severe hypoxia, and an abnormal x-ray are hallmarks of this syndrome. Patients feel as if they’re drowning as fluid collects in their lungs and tissue oxygenation drops. This decline in breathing is extremely rapid in COVID-19 patients causing a surge in ventilator demand, as ventilators are the most effective way to keep alive a patient in ARDS.
Is COVID-19 treatable?
COVID-19 is not known to humans. At the moment, there are no specific treatments or vaccines. Hospitalized patients require oxygen. Patients in ARDS need a ventilator to get enough oxygen. On a regular day, ARDS has a mortality of 40%, for those with COVID-19, it seems to be far worse. Most on ventilators do not recover.
There are trials working on potential treatments.
What Can YOU Do?
Stay home! If you have to go outdoors, remember
- Wear a mask.
- Use hand sanitizer to wash hands frequently.
- Keep hands away from the face.
- Maintain a social distance of at least six feet.