Introducing the Coronavirus

In December 2019, a new virus emerged that was named coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February. The virus has been classified as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is preceded by two other coronaviruses: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The knowledge collected from previous outbreaks along with data collection for COVID-19 will continue to provide sources of information for vaccination/drug development.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are approximately 120 nm in diameter and are enveloped [1]. The virus particles contain strands of RNA – RNA gives the instructions for making proteins. For the viruses, these strands provide all the information needed to make multiple copies of themselves, including the spikes on the surface of the virus, the envelope, nucleocapsid that houses the RNA and the viral membrane. In order to do this, they need to gain entry into our cells and once inside our cell, they will hijack our own cellular machinery so they can make proteins from their RNA molecule and build more viruses.

How does coronavirus spread?

In order to make copies of itself, the virus needs to find a way to enter a host’s cell. It can do this by attaching itself to molecules on the cell surface of cells in the lungs. Scientists in China have shown that in the case of COVID-19 (and SARS) the virus binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) which acts as a receptor [2] for the spikes on the viral envelope. From here it gains entry into the cytoplasm of the cell, and will access the machinery to replicate itself. Once the virus has replicated itself, its particles are released from the cells, and this is where coughing, for example, will release these new particles from the lungs into the air in droplets, ready to be picked up by a new unsuspecting host.

Why is there not a cure?

When a new infection occurs that has not been seen before, the immune system will not be prepared to fight it. This is the same with any new disease, whether viral or bacterial. Targeting the virus means getting to know everything about it before a cure can be found and even then, it takes months or years to develop a vaccine. WHO is presently working with Chinese scientists to get over 80 clinical trials up and running so the pressure is on and I have no doubt, everything that can be done, is being done.

References

1.            Li, X., et al., Molecular immune pathogenesis and diagnosis of COVID-19. Journal of Pharmaceutical Analysis, 2020.

2.            Zhou, P., et al., A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature, 2020. 579 (7798): p. 270-273.

“4 Things Everyone Should Know About the Coronavirus”

I write this post for Fitness Savvy, a company that I provide writing services to and I thought I would share it on my website also.

Covid-19 is the third known zoonotic coronavirus disease, and the previous two were SARS and MERS [1]. There is a flurry of research to understand the mechanisms of infection and transmission. Here is what we know:

Should I take anti-inflammatory medicine?

There have been some conflicting reports relating to the use of anti-inflammatory medicines in the treatment for the Covid-19. For those that are able to use paracetamol to alleviate symptoms, it is certainly wise to do so. The reason there is a question mark hanging over the use of drugs such as ibuprofen is due to their effect on the immune system. Anti-inflammatory medicines suppress the immune system, which may be necessary to moderate the immune response [2]. It may in some cases, have a negative impact on the body’s ability to respond appropriately to infection.

We know how to avoid Covid-19, but what happens if you get it?

There are currently no specified treatments to prevent Covid-19, although much work is being performed globally. Antibiotics, are prescribed for a bacterial infection and will not help with a viral infection and should not be sought. If symptoms transition into a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia antibiotics may be prescribed.

It is essential that dehydration is prevented, take on plenty of fluids to reduce the risk. Stay hydrated despite how unwell you may feel, small sips during regular intervals may help.

A fever is a natural response to an infection and is the body’s natural way of fighting [3], but can become uncontrolled. Medications such as paracetamol can be taken to reduce a fever and the symptoms associated with it.

Covid-19 affects the respiratory tract [1] and in more severe cases, oxygen may need to be administered to assist with the appropriate supply of oxygen to cells.

What is meant by those ‘at risk’?

At risk persons are usually those that are already immunocompromised, in addition to the very young and the elderly. Immunocompromised include patients having chemotherapy treatment for cancer, patients having undergone organ transplantation and/or patients with existing lung disease such as COPD or cystic fibrosis. Furthermore, the response to infections decreases with age and therefore, elderly persons, with underlying health conditions may be considered at risk [https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-new-measures-to-protect-people-at-highest-risk-from-coronavirus]. Conversely, young patients are still developing their immune systems and may be more susceptible to symptoms and pregnant women are also considered at risk.

Can you catch Covid-19 twice?

When exposed to an infection, such as a virus, the body will develop immunity against repeated infections. In principle, our immune cells will recognise components and fight repeat infections rapidly. This rapid response will mean that you may not be aware of the infection, as the body will fight it appropriately. It does not mean that you will not pick up the same infection twice, rather you will be better prepared for subsequent infections.

There are conflicting reports regarding Covid-19, and when the infection is under control, more detailed data will be available for analysis. What may appear problematic for one cohort of people, maybe less so for another? The guidelines issued by the government are based on the most available date and should be adhered to unless informed otherwise.

References

1.            Sun, P., et al., Understanding of COVID-19 based on current evidence. J Med Virol, 2020.

2.            Coutinho, A.E. and K.E. Chapman, The anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects of glucocorticoids, recent developments and mechanistic insights. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 2011. 335(1): p. 2-13.

3.            Evans, S.S., E.A. Repasky, and D.T. Fisher, Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heat. Nat Rev Immunol, 2015. 15(6): p. 335-49.