COVID-19- a name that puts everyone on high alert, of late. Since its origin and detection for the first time in Wuhan, China in December 2019, the deadly virus has spread globally affecting thousands of individuals and claimed the lives of several. And the effect it has seems to be spiralling out of control. As a society, we need to grab the reins and get the situation under control.
Let’s take a peek behind the curtain and start at the very beginning.
So, what is COVID-19?
If your memory serves you well, you probably remember the 2002 SARS outbreak in China, which also spread worldwide but was contained within a matter of time. Since 2004, there hasn’t been a case of the SARS.
Both SARS and COVID-19 are two members of a large family of viruses known to cause illnesses in humans as well as animals. In humans, coronaviruses present as respiratory illnesses which may be as simple as the common cold to more complex forms.
In December 2019, a not-so-close relative of the virus responsible for the SARS outbreak which had not been detected so far came into the limelight- the COVID-19. Coronavirus (COVID-19) is the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2). It found its origins, again, in China in Wuhan and has swiftly spread to several countries around the world.
COVID-19 coronavirus has seen significant outbreaks in China, South Korea, the United States, Italy and Iran pushing the World Health Organisation to grant it ‘pandemic’ status.
Public anxiety surrounding the coronavirus is real- we hear reports of people dying after being handed a positive coronavirus diagnosis, travel bans are being implemented, people are being requested to work from home and large-scale big-budget events are getting cancelled. Something as small as a cough or a sneeze is putting people on edge, revealing facets unseen- revealing the bigotry of the human race with subdued (or in some instances, outright) acts of racism.
In instances of outbreaks like these, it’s quite natural to wonder how to keep yourself safe from contracting the virus. Keep an eye out for the symptoms and self-quarantine yourself for a fortnight in case you suspect having contracted the virus.
Everything you need to know about COVID-19
Less commonly seen are:
*This list is not all-inclusive. Consult your medical provider for other severe and concerning symptoms.
The infection spreads from an affected individual to the other by respiratory droplets, most often produced by coughing or sneezing. The virus can also remain on a surface or object, be transferred by touch and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes.
From exposure to the virus to becoming symptomatic could take anywhere between 2 to 14 days, with an average incubation period of 5 days.
Listed here are the current testing methodologies.
A sample is obtained using a nasopharyngeal swab or sputum and sent to the laboratory. COVID-19 is standardly diagnosed by the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR). In addition to this, a blood serum sample can also be used for an antibody assay to diagnose the infection.
COVID-19 can also be diagnosed by spotting the symptoms, risk factors and a chest CT scan which shows pneumonia.
It is quite apparent that the fever, sore throat and aches and pains which coronavirus presents with is not too different from the flu- but they’re nothing alike. While they’re similar on grounds of how they spread, they vary in two ways- their contagiousness and vaccine against the disease.
COVID-19 spreads at twice the frequency of the normal flu. The flu vaccine is an effective way to prevent seasonal flu, but the COVID-19 does not have any vaccine for its prevention in place yet.
How did it begin?
The COVID-19 outbreak began in the city of Wuhan in China with a population of 11 million people. This dangerous virus finds its origins in a “wet market” which was set up for the illegal sale of animals like bats, snakes, rabbits and birds. The close unhygienic contact of humans with living and dead animals in these wet markets led to the transmission of the virus from the animals to humans. It is said to have first infected the stallholders in the wet market. The first person to die of the virus was a 61-year old frequent shopper at the market.
Once the disease began to spread, Chinese officials imposed a nationwide ban on the sale of wild animals in markets, restaurants and retail stores. While the animal source has not been identified definitively so far, the best bet of the original host of the virus is believed to be the bat.
Once the SARS-CoV-2 virus enters the body, it first infects the lung lining’s epithelial cells. The process first begins in the upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, larynx, bronchi) with the infection of the goblet and cilia cells. A protein on the virus receptor attaches on to the host cell’s receptors to penetrate the cells. Once it enters the host cell, the virus starts replicating to the point that it kills the cell. At this point, the immune system response kicks in and the body creates a hostile environment for the virus with higher temperatures which manifest in the form of a fever. Coughing and a runny nose are the body’s response to getting rid of the mucous. The patient presents with mild symptoms like dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, muscle pain and tiredness- all very similar to the flu. This process takes a week or so. As the infection moves on to the lower respiratory tract, the symptoms become more severe. Respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia arise.
In an individual with a fairly strong immune response, the virus is contained in the upper respiratory tract of the patient. The virus wages a war on the host- the fatality is a result of the outcome of this war.
Severe infection is usually attributed to the restriction of oxygen into the bloodstream and therefore to major organs like the liver, kidney and brain. Mortality occurs if a significant portion of the lung is damaged and oxygen does not reach the rest of the body resulting in multi-organ failure and eventually death.
Severe developments which result in death after the coronavirus infection are uncommon- at-risk groups include those aged over 70, individuals with weak or compromised immunity, pulmonary abnormalities or suffering from chronic diseases.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) changed their classification of COVID-19 from a public health emergency of international concern to a pandemic.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, explained that the WHO “has been assessing this outbreak around the clock, and we are deeply concerned, both by the alarming levels of spread and severity and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly. It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death. Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do,” Dr Tedros went on to explain.
An epidemic is “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected in that population in that area” whereas a pandemic is an escalation and “refers to an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people.”
COVID-19 is the first pandemic caused by a coronavirus.
Whenever there is an issue affecting people all around the world, keeping conspiracy theories at bay might not be the easiest. Biological warfare has been a part of wars for as long as history goes. In 400 BC, armies poisoned the wells of their enemies and killed them using poisoned arrows. In 18th century America, smallpox-ridden blankets were given by British colonialists to the native Americans to kill them in an epidemic. During World War I, Germany developed anthrax, glanders, cholera and a wheat fungus and are also said to have spread plague in St Petersburg, Russia. It is believed that a few countries are developing offensive biological and chemical weapons.
People are convinced that COVID-19 is man-made and is engineered to wipe out a large segment of the human race. There are claims that vaccines have already been manufactured along with wild exaggerations about the numbers of sick and dead, and potentially harmful claims about bogus cures.
Debunking the conspiracy theory that COVID-19 was a result of Bio weaponry required tracing its family tree through its evolving DNA sequence. The genome has thousands of mutations dispersed throughout, which reveals that it is not engineered and seems to have naturally evolved.