WHO (World Health Organization) was alerted to several cases of pnemonia on 31st of December 2019 in the Wuhan District of Hubei Province of China. The strange thing about this outbreak was that the virus that was the cause of epidemic did not match to any of the known viruses to that date. One week later, Chinese Health Authorities confirmed that the new virus belongs to coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that also includes common cold virus, SARS (Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS(Middle East respiratory syndrome).
The family of the virus has been identified but still this virus is a new virus, therefore it was termed as “2019-nCoV”, where “n” is for novel, meaning newly discovered. The title was later changed to “COVID-19”.
So, what was the cause of this outspread? How does it affect human body? What are its protective measures? Should you be alarmed about it? Keep on reading to find out.
What is a Virus?
As mentioned above that coronavirus is not a single virus but a family of viruses, and newly discovered virus is called novel coronavirus. We gotta know what actually virus is.
So, Let’s go back to basics.
Virus is microorganism that is considered to be dead and alive. Some consider it to be on the edge or boundary of living and non-living. It is considered non-living because it has no cellular structure, and is considered living because it can reproduce and replicates itself very quickly (hence, the term going viral) inside other cells.
So, basically for a virus to be living, it has to infect other living cells.
The structure of virus is different depending upon the nature of the virus. However, the every virus has two components: Capsid (protien coat) and Genetic Material.
Now, that genetic material can either be RNA or DNA. All Coronaviruses are RNA viruses.
Now, viruses have no cellular organelles, because they lack a cellular structure, but in order to replicate they needs enzymes and other resources. So, because of not having any organelles, it infects other host cells and uses host cells machinery to replicate itself, and in doing so it either kills the host immediately or damages the cell permanently, leading to cytopathic diseases.
Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The novel coronavirus discovered in Wuhan is RNA virus just like every other coronaviruses. To put that in relation to other epidemics, Flavi Virus (Zika) and Filo Virus (Ebola) are also RNA viruses.
Other known coronaviruses are SARS and MERS, to which 2019-nCoV shares a lot of similarities.
SARS stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” which is also a respiratory disease that is transmutable between humans and animals. An outbreak of SARS occurred in between November of 2002 to July of 2003 in Southern China, leading to 774 deaths in 17 different countries. However, after this outbreak no case of SARS has been reported. Later in 2017, the virus was traced through civets (A small lean nocturnal mammal that lives in tropical regions of Asia and Africa) to cave-dwelling horsehoe bats of Yunnan Province of China.
Other virus with which 2019-nCoV or COVID-19 shares similarities is MERS or “Middle East Respiratory Syndrome”, commonly known as Camel Flu. The symptoms of this virus are diarrhea, cough and fever. The virus was found to be derived from bats and then camels, which were found to be involved in its spread to humans., however it is not clear how.
Coronaviruses are single-stranded RNA viruses. Its Capsid is helical and is enveloped virus.
First coronaviruses were discovered in 1960s, which were 299E and OC43. Then there were SARS-CoV in 2003-2004 and MERS-CoV in 2012 and then 2019-nCoV in 2019-2020 in Wuhan.
All of the coronaviruses affect respiratory system in one way or other.
The Novel Coronavirus is considered to spread from a Sea food restaurant in Wuhan, Hebei. Its first case was reported on 31st of December, 2019. Snakes are also considered to be reservoirs for viruses.
Virus is considered to be of zoonotic origin, meaning being originated from animals, but it is not confirmed as yet. Also, because of its 96% match with bat coronavirus, bats can be considered as a likely origin of this virus.
The situational reports about 2019-nCoV by WHO (World Health Organization) have also been published, which document the exact nature of patients who have been infected by this virus.
About 6000 cases have been identified as of 29th of January 2020 and 132 deaths have been reported in China, according to CNN.
Almost all of the cases identified outside of China are found to be people who have traveled to Wuhan. However, the virus has been found to able to spread from human-to-human. However, that was the case only upto a limit in time.
Now the virus has spread to 100+ countries. Other than China, most suffering countries are Iran,Italy and South Korea.
Italy is mostly in total lockdown as of March 18, 2020. Almost all of the events have been postponed or cancelled like Sport Leagues like European Football/Soccer leagues and more.
Symptoms & Treatment
No specific treatment is available as of yet. The treatment being practiced is only to control the symptoms of the virus.
These symptoms are:
- Dry Cough
- Shortness of Breath
- Kidney Failure, in severe cases
Studies to develop a vaccine is also underway in China at several universities and also all over the world. A team from University of Hong Kong, has claimed to have developed a vaccine, but is yet to tested on animals and humans. The same team also took part in vaccine development of SARS and MERS, previously.
Several other institutions including almost all of the medical industry leaders like Pfiezer, GSK and more are working on it.
Some theories suggest that virus cannot survive in temperatures higher than 27 Degree Celsius.
However, still the only treatment remains the elevation of one’s immune system. As, people with weaker immune systems are more likely to get infected by the virus. People with Diabetes, Heart Diseases or Respiratory Diseases are hot targets for Coronavirus.
As there are no specific treatments and vaccines available, people who have not yet been infected can follow some preventive measures to stay safe from 2019-nCoV.
Coronavirus is one the latest outbreaks of any viral disease.
As of now, we do not know enough of it, but hopefully as researches are being carried out, soon a vaccine will be developed.
Also, SARS that went epidemic in 2003, was considered a very dangerous and alarming virus, but after 2004 not a single case has been reported. So, we can only hope that vaccine will be developed soon for COVID-19.
For the meantime, we can only follow preventive measures to keep ourselves safe from it. Still, it should not be considered lightly no matter where you are in the world.