In December 2019 the Chinese authorities notified the world that a virus was spreading through their community, in the following months it spread to other countries with cases doubling within days.
What happens when Coronavirus infects a human and what should we all do?
A virus is just a hull around a genetic material and a few proteins, arguably not even a living thing. It can only make more of itself by entering a living cell.
Coronavirus may spread via surfaces, but it’s still uncertain how long it can survive on them. Its main way of spreading seems to be droplet infection, when people cough or if you touch someone who’s ill and then touch your face or rub your nose.
The virus starts its journey here and then hitches a ride as a stowaway deeper into the body, its destinations are the intestines or the lungs where it can have the most dramatic effect.
Even just a few coronaviruses can cause quite a dramatic situation, the lungs are lined with billions of epithelial cells. They are the border cells of your body, lining your organs and mucosa waiting to be infected.
Corona connects to a specific receptor on its victims’ membranes to inject its genetic material.
The cell ignorant of what’s happening executes the new instructions which are simple copy and reassemble, it fills up with more and more copies of the original virus until it reaches a critical point and receives one final order, self-destruct.
The cell starts to melt away releasing new corona particles ready to attack more cells, the number of infected cells grows exponentially, after about 10 days millions of body cells are infected and billions of viruses swarm the lungs
The virus won’t have caused too much damage yet, but corona is now going to release the real beast on you your own immune system.
The immune system while there to protect you can be dangerous to yourself and needs tight regulation.
As immune cells travel into the lungs to fight the virus, corona infects some of them and creates confusion. Cells have neither ears or eyes; they communicate mostly by tiny information proteins called cytokines.
Nearly every important immune reaction is controlled by them.
Corona causes infected immune cells to over react and distracts them from doing their job, in a sense it puts the immune system into a fighting frenzy and sends way more protection cells than it should wasting its resources and causing damage.
There are two kinds of cells that reach havoc, first neutrophiles which are great at killing stuff including ourselves, as they arrive in their thousands, they start pumping out enzymes that destroy as many good cells as bad cells.
The other important type of cells that go into a frenzy are killer T cells, which usually order infected cells to commit controlled suicide.
Confused, they start ordering healthy cells to kill themselves. The more and more immune cells arrive the more damage they do to the healthy lung tissue, this can get so bad that it can cause permanent irreversible damage that leads to lifelong disabilities.
In most cases the immune system slowly regains control.
The immune system kills the infected cells, intercepts the viruses trying to infect new ones and cleans up the body, recovery begins, most people infected by corona will get through it with relatively mild symptoms.
But many cases become severe or even critical, we don’t know the percentage because not all cases have been identified, but it’s safe to say that there is a lot more than with the flu.
In most severe cases millions of epithelial cells have died and with them the lungs protective lining is gone, that means that the alveoli tiny air sacks via which breeding occurs can be infected by bacteria.
The bacteria is not usually a big problem, but because our immune system is busy fighting the coronavirus, patients get pneumonia, respiration becomes hard or even fails, and patients need ventilators to survive.
The immune system has fought at full capacity for weeks and made millions of antiviral weapons and as thousands of bacteria rapidly multiply it is overwhelmed. They enter the blood and overrun the body, if this happens death is very likely.
The coronaviruses is often compared to the flu but actually it’s much more dangerous, while the exact death rate is hard to pin down during an ongoing pandemic we know for sure that it’s much more contagious and spreads faster than the flu.
There are two futures for a pandemic like corona, fast and slow which future we will see depends on how we will react to it in the early days of the outbreak.
A fast pandemic will be horrible and cost many lives.
A slow pandemic will not be remembered by the history books, the worst-case scenario for a fast pandemic begins with a very rapid rate of infection, because they’re on the counter measures in place to slow it down.
Why is this so bad?
In a fast pandemic many people get sick at the same time, if the numbers get to large healthcare like the NHS become unable to handle it, there won’t be enough resources like PPE or equipment like ventilators.
People will die untreated and as more of our nurses and doctors get sick themselves the capacity of our healthcare falls even further.
If this becomes the case, horrible decisions will have to be made about who gets to live and who doesn’t, the number of deaths rises significantly in such a scenario.
To avoid this the world, that means all of us needs to do what it can to turn this into a slow pandemic, a pandemic is slowed down by the right responses especially in the early phase, so that everyone who gets sick can get treatment and there’s no crunch point with overwhelmed hospitals.
Since we don’t have a vaccine for corona, we must socially engineer our behavior to act like a social vaccine, this simply means 2 things.
- Not getting infected
- Not infecting others
Although it sounds trivial the very best thing you can do is to wash your hands, soap is a powerful tool, the coronavirus is encased in what is basically a layer of fat, soap breaks that fat apart and leaves it unable to infect you.
It also makes your hands slippery and with the mechanical motions of washing, viruses are ripped away.
To do it properly wash your hands as if you’ve just cut up some onions and want to put in your contacts lenses next.
The next thing is social distancing, which is not a nice experience but an important thing to do, this means no hugging and no handshakes. If you can stay at home, stay at home to protect those who need to be out for society to function, from doctors to shop keepers to police officers.
On a larger level there are quarantines, which can mean different things from travel restrictions or actual orders to stay at home, quarantines on not great to experience and certainly not popular.
They buy us and researchers working on medication and vaccination crucial time, so if you are put under quarantine you should understand why and respected it.
Its important people understand, here in the UK on the 20th March 2020, Boris Johnson ordered pubs clubs, café’s restaurants to be closed, in the last few weeks we have already had all sporting events and mass gatherings cancelled, this is to prevent spread and is not a full quarantine yet.
None of this is fun but looking at the bigger picture it is a small price to pay, the question of how pandemics end depends on how they start, if they start fast with a steep slope, they end badly
If they start slowly with a not so steep slope the end relatively speaking okay.
In this day and age, it really is in all of our hands literally and figuratively.
This post was created by universalcredit.co.uk
Thank you to: DR James Gurney, DR Max Roser, DR Daniel Cornforth and Professor Joshua Weitz for providing the facts about coronavirus (COVID-19)