Mar 2, 2020
People are afraid of the new coronavirus. We don’t have very much information about it and haven’t previously encountered it. This has led to panicked gobbling up of face masks in some places and to the blaming of Chinese people in other places like the Ukraine.
Coronavirus or COVID-19 was unknown before the recent outbreak in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It is a new emergent disease. It has now spread to 51 countries in three months. There are more than 86,000 known cases and around 3,000 people have died.
COVID-19 is first of all a virus. Viruses are bits of genetic material that can infect a living host by introducing its own genetic material into the host cells. Once there, the virus takes over the cell’s internal machinery, turning it into a factory to produce more of the virus. Lots more and at high speeds.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals and humans. Several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes what is now being called COVID-19.
COVID-19 is closely related to SARS genetically, but they are different. SARS is more deadly but much less infectious than COVID-19. There have been no outbreaks of SARS since 2003.
Over history, humans have experienced new, emergent diseases and epidemics. They often originate in other animals and jump to humans. During the Middle Ages, the plague created much panic and insanity. We now know that fleas transmit the plague bacteria to humans.
Coronaviruses, like the plague, are zoonotic, meaning we get the infection from animals. SARS was associated with civet cats and MERS was associated with dromedary camels. The animal source for COVID-19 is not yet known, but bats are a likely suspect because of the genetic analysis of the virus. An animal source started this process but now the virus is spreading human to human.