Updated: Apr 23, 2020
What is COVID-19?
This article will simplify what is going on with this virus and address some of the misunderstandings associated with this outbreak.
What is a coronavirus and Covid-19
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. The common cold is one of them. Some coronaviruses infect the nose while others infect the lungs. The Novel coronavirus mostly negatively impacts the lungs. The technical name for this virus is SARS-CoV-2. SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The disease it causes is dubbed COVID-19 formerly called 'Coronavirus disease 2019'. COVID-19 stands for CO-rona-VI-rus D-isease and the year it was first discovered which was in 2019. So whenever you say COVID-19, you are specifically talking about the disease. This is akin to how HIV causes the disease of AIDS, but HIV is not the disease, it is the virus. Damage to sensitive lung cells creates inflammation responses, builds-up fluid in the lungs, and impedes gas exchange within the body. The virus also impacts other tissues and organs because the mechanism for how the virus enters cells can be done via many cell types (Coronavirus information for kids).
Like all viruses, SARS-COV-2 is not alive. It is a biochemical machine whose basic job is to infect cells, copy itself, and then infect other cells. Many viruses are hard to vaccinate against because they mutate within the host. Vaccination against one strain may not protect against a later mutated strain. Sadly, this misunderstanding has many people believing that either the vaccine doesn't work or that the vaccine gave them the flu when it may have been a different strain of flu. Early on, it was discovered that the novel coronavirus itself had mutated into a deadlier strain called the L-Strain. It has now evolved into over 30 different strains, potentially thousands as this virus can mutate within each host. This mutability is what allows species-to-species virus jumps.
Where did this novel-Coronavirus come from?
Based on genetic analysis, the novel coronavirus began in bats. The virus then jumped from bats to possibly pangolins first and then to humans. A protein called the ACE-2 enzyme is what SARS-Cov-2 attaches to. This feature is what allows it into cells. All mammals have similar proteins and humans and pangolins have genetically similar ACE-2 enzymes. This is what many scientists think allowed a jump from pangolins to humans.
The pangolin trade is huge in some parts of Asia so transmission of this virus between them and humans is feasible. It is believed that the virus began its spread in a meat market and may have been transmitted from animal-to-person and then person-to-person.
In some Asiatic communities, eating bats has become a delicacy. Videos posted online provided the fuel that supported the idea that bats were the direct cause of this outbreak. Though this current coronavirus may have been indirect, through genetic analysis, it is mostly agreed that bat coronaviruses are the ancestral source of all modern coronaviruses.
There are some conspiracy theories that the virus may have been synthetically created by humans; however, other researchers have looked at the genetic structure of the novel coronavirus and have argued that the sequences of RNA could have easily mutated naturally to its current form. It evolved and is still evolving. A measles variant would have been a better virus to use as a bioweapon as it is far more contagious with an R₀ of 12-18, which means one person can directly infect 12-18 people. COVID-19 has an average R₀ of ~2.3. Read more on Myths and Mistruths surrounding this virus.
Why are people so concerned?
This is concerning because of these facts below:
1.) There is no vaccine (as of 02/28/2020)
2.) The rate of death after contraction compared to the flu is much higher in COVID-19 sufferers. Influenza's rate is between .01-0.1%; while, COVID-19's death rate is between 1-4.08% depending on location. Recently, however, the World Health Organization has placed COVID-19 at 3.4% on average. This basically means that your ability to die from COVID-19 is much higher than if you contracted the flu. In some places, the contraction/death rate is as high as 5-6% such as in Iran and in the United States. As more people are tested, this rate is expected to go down to possibly around 1%. This is still a 10 times higher death rate than the flu.
3.) We aren't certain of the many ways it is transmissible. Fomites (materials that may transmit the virus) are being investigated. One researcher states that the virus may be viable on surfaces up to 9 days in select cases (but the average is only about 72 hours). The cruise ship, Diamond Princess, was found to have traces of the virus 17 days after the ship was emptied. It hasn't been researched whether these fragments are transmissible. In comparison, the flu only persists for 24-hours on hard surfaces. A recent report suggests that paper money may be carrying the virus as well.
5.) Infected persons are transmissible before they show any symptoms and long after they have symptoms, even after hospitalization
6.) Though not considered an airborne virus, it can hang in the air for over 20 minutes in closed spaces.
7.) There are still many unknowns about this strain of the virus. Is it seasonal? Can someone be reinfected by the same strain, a different strain? Just how long can this virus last on surfaces? Can this virus remain in someone for much longer periods? What is its mutation rate? How many other organ systems can this virus invade?
COVID-19 and Influenza Comparison Chart Provided by: Rentry.co.
But more people are dying from the flu. What the big deal?
As seen above, the ratio of infections to deaths is actually higher in COVID-19. The World Health Organization stated on 03/04/2020 that the death rate was 3.4%.
As you can see, it is inappropriate to equivocate influenza with COVID-19, especially as a biased attempt to reduce COVID-19's severity. These are additional deaths that humanity has to contend with now, so it is foolhardy to say that since influenza kills more people that we shouldn't be concerned about the deaths caused by complications with COVID-19. The flu kills more people because it is more widespread and it is a more efficient infectious agent (also according to the WHO). It has also had hundreds of years to spread into the population. This is not the case in Italy, however, where now the death rate is higher for COVID-19 patients than the flu over a single month's time. Considering the rates of infection and deaths of victims of the coronavirus, it should be apparent why this is troubling for epidemiologists and why you should be concerned as well.
Can we do anything to reduce our risk?
Don't travel anywhere where the virus is actively infecting people. You should always continue your standard hygiene practices, such as hand-washing, to help prevent infection. Do not touch your face, dig in your eyes and nose, etc. Stay away from crowds. If you go outside, stay at least 6ft from other people and wear a mask.
Can the virus travel on materials?
This virus may live on some hard surfaces up to 9 days, so wiping down commonly touched materials may help lower infection rates. There is an extremely low risk of acquiring the virus from external packaging but it can last on cardboard for 24 hours. If you receive mailed packages from cities with high infection rates, you may wish to sterilize any hard surfaces capable of transmitting the disease. Again, this is low risk; however, an employee at the US Postal Service has tested positive as well as an employee at Amazon. How these persons contracted the virus is unknown as of 03/04/2020. Regardless, washing your hands after handling packages is generally a good idea if one is concerned.
How can I reduce spread?
If you have left an area, especially resort areas or heavily populated areas, where the infection is growing, you should visit a hospital immediately upon return for medical clearance and/or quarantine if you have any symptoms. Do not wait. You may infect hundreds of others who may then infect thousands. Remember, you may not show any symptoms for two weeks or more so you may wish to self-quarantine after returning home.
Who is at risk? Epidemiological studies have revealed that those most susceptible are those with weak immune systems, asthma, heart disease, pulmonary conditions, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Chronic smokers, including marijuana smokers, should also take necessary precautions. The elderly are especially at risk; and generally, anyone over the age of 30. Only about 1% of patients that are considered otherwise healthy die from complications with this strain. This means then that about 1 out every 100 healthy people are also dying from this disease around the world. That's approximately 400 healthy people that have died. Many victims are waiting too long for treatment as they may not have realized that their symptoms were reflective of COVID-19. There may have been underlying hidden factors as well but we don't know at this time. Additionally, countries that have chronic diet-induced diseases may see deaths at younger ages when compared with leaner countries.
How do I know I have it?
The symptoms are very similar to having a cold at first such as fever and a cough. But as the virus continues to propagate, your lungs are impacted and breathing becomes labored. Since the virus is attacking lung cells, they are destroying the ability to breathe. Your immune system begins to fight it aggressively but this causes inflammation and fluid build-up in the lungs. Though still sick, you may begin to feel better; but sadly, for many patients, especially those with underlying health conditions, secondary infections, such as bacterial and additional viral infections are possible. Additionally, it may damage other tissues causing diarrhea, kidney failure, heart attacks, and strokes.
NOTE: 03/21/2020 - Hospitals will soon be overloaded. If you suspect you have COVID-19 but are not having any breathing problems, high fever, or excessive coughing, you may wish to self-isolate and heal at home. However, if at any time you have a very high fever (37.7 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit) or begin to feel short of breath (as if you have to consciously get air into your lungs or are frequently tired), seek medical attention immediately!
Where is the virus now?
It is now believed that this particular virus may have been in America since late January 2020 or possibly December. As this is the flu and cold season, COVID-19 symptoms may have been assumed to be just another typical form of pneumonia and may have been going unnoticed for weeks before the first official US death in Washington state. It is suspected that as more test kits are distributed, that the incidence of cases will rise significantly. Visit the heatmap below to keep track of the spread of this strain.
NOTE: * Please do not take this lightly. You may wish to protect yourselves by making sure that you have all updated immunizations. This may provide you a second shield of protection just in case your immune system gets weak from some other pathogenic infection. For example, the flu plus coronavirus plus bacterial or viral pneumonia. Updated vaccinations also protect others, herd immunity. Additionally, do not take any antibiotics unless prescribed. Antibiotics do not combat viruses. Consult a licensed physician about any medical interventions considered as a result of reading any information on this page.
Is this the end of the world?
No. Humanity will get through this but we must take proper control protocols with each and every community-driven disease. The rate of the spread of COVID-19 in China is beginning to lessen thanks to aggressive control protocols. This means there are new cases, but the rate of infection has slowed. Other countries must have the same diligence as China because if these strains stabilize in the population, more deaths will then contribute to our already deadly viral seasons which already take between 290K to 650K people worldwide.
Coronavirus Myths and Mistruths
This list has moved to its own page here.
How COVID-19 Kills People
The medical doctor below explains exactly how this virus kills people and brings to light the challenges that medical doctors must face to now save the lives of millions of people that have decided that they are not going to stay home during this pandemic.
Potholer Analyzes the Science and Politics Surrounding the Coronavirus
** This article is a work in progress and updated frequently. Thank you for stopping by. Please share with those that can benefit from this information.