Coronavirus Pandemic: A war with the genomes
COVID-19 🦠is an infectious upper respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus. Most commonly known as Coronavirus, this disease was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China's Hubei province. Within mere months of its first discovery, COVID-19 has spread all over the world, causing it to become a global pandemic, claiming more than 200000 lives. This article paints a brief picture of how this disease came to be, and what the current situation is.
December 2019, For the genomes, it was the day to celebrate, as yet another virus from the family of "Coronaviruses" had crossed a new species barrier. Unlike many organisms, the main goal of the viruses is to find a host body, infect, and use their cell's structure to reproduce. The same would be the function of this newfound SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some speculate that it mutated through bats, others say it had infected some other form of life stock in Wuhan market, however, the fact remains that these viruses had mutated, and could now infect humans.
The COVID-19 started spreading amongst the residents of Wuhan district like a forest fire. This was when international travel was still at its peak. Before the China government could confirm its existence and declare this new disease to be an Epidemic in the Hubei province, the viruses had found its hosts from across the world.
The Coronaviruses had already won the first stage of the battle for 2 reasons:
- Since this is a new virus, humans knew relatively lesser information about the virus. Every virus contains some kind of genetic information either in the form of DNA or RNA, covered in a protein coating. The viruses cannot replicate on its own, it requires a host cell to latch itself and multiply. The rate at which the virus can spread, and the amount of time viruses can live outside the host cell differs from one virus to another. None of this information was clear at the beginning.
The viruses can enter a human body when the area containing the virus comes in direct contact with the body either through the eyes, nose, mouth, or breaks in the skin. After much research, it has been known that the viruses causing COVID-19 have spiked protein sticking out of their surfaces. These spikes hook onto cell membranes, allowing the genetic material of the virus to enter the human cell. Once infected, these viruses multiply by infecting the neighboring cells. They start by first infecting the lining of your throat, usually showing symptoms of sore throat or a dry cough.
- The Coronaviruses have an incubation period(how long the viruses reside in the human body until the person starts showing visible symptoms), and the spread of the virus happened worldwide before these details could be validated and confirmed.
It is now evident that the incubation period of this virus is anywhere between 5 to 14 days. The SARS-CoV-2 viruses continue to infect the human body through airways and lungs. For most individuals, COVID-19 has mild effects. After the incubation, period the very first symptoms of infection might start to show. The core symptoms of the virus include shortness of breath, fever, cough, and fatigue. In some cases, the people with lower immunity levels might develop a more severe case of COVID-19 disease, causing difficulty in breathing, further complications might lead to NCIP(novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia) and death.
The Coronaviruses are extremely contagious. The viruses spread not only through direct contact with the infected person, but also by respiratory droplets left behind in the air, and through surface contamination. At the beginning of 2020, China's Hubei province had 1000s of infected cases and was under complete lockdown, rest of the world, however, had very few cases of Coronavirus and let the international travel continue. Airports and other public areas had fewer restrictions for people traveling to/from other areas, little did we know that this would be the main cause of the rapid spread of the Virus.
After a couple of months, the stages of COVID-19 spread was narrowed down to 4 stages:
- Stage 1️⃣: The disease isn't spread locally. Only the people with travel history to an already infected country are affected.
- Stage 2️⃣: The disease starts spreading locally by coming in contact with infected individuals.
- Stage 3️⃣: The area starts having community spread. This is the stage when infected individuals cannot be traced back to their hosts.
- Stage 4️⃣: The spread of the disease is so high that it is uncontrollable and the country/area starts showing major clusters of injections.
Coronavirus is not the first-ever pandemic the world had faced. We have the ancient and vicious Black Death pandemic, Small Pox widespread which was finally eradicated in the 1900s. Spanish flu which claimed the lives of near 50million people. The most recent outbreaks include Ebola, SARS and MERS. The COVID-19 is mostly being compared with SARS and MERS since these viruses come from the same family, and also display similar characteristics.
However, care should be taken to understand that COVID-19 is very different from previously seen SARS and MERS. Current studies show that the mortality rate of COVID-19 is around 7%, compared to 9.43% of SARS, and a lot less than the 34.5% mortality rate of MERS. It is important to note that, the spread of COVID-19 is very high, due to which there would be more number of infected individuals, leading to more number of deaths across the world, even with a lesser percentage of mortality rates.
Seeing the patterns of previous outbreaks, we need to realize that the first wave is just the beginning. Unless we take extreme precautions and stop the spread of disease, it could be catastrophic to the whole world (infected patients or otherwise).
Within the first few months of its origin, CoronaVirus became a global pandemic. Initially, with a lesser number of cases, the mortality rate seemed to be quite low, around 2%. However, as the disease began to spread like a wildfire, it has been noticed that the mortality rate is much higher among individuals with age greater than 50.
- The initial stage of panic began when the countries across the world started banning the air travels to and from China. This led to more air travels as people wanted to come back to their hometowns before there would be a complete lockdown, aiding to the spread of the disease internationally.
- The next stage of panic included a high number of individuals trying to buy surgical masks in the hopes of evading the virus. This caused a sudden surge in the prices, also a shortage of PPE kits in the hospitals where actual patients reside. A wrong move due to panic which did more harm than good.
- The third stage of panic was caused due to lockdown enforcements. People all over the world hurried to supermarkets and grocery stores to stock up their supplies and essentials, causing the weaker section of society such as senior-citizens to suffer.
The final ongoing crisis includes a major decline in the sales and profits of many companies across various sectors. Transportation, Entertainment, Hotels, and Restaurants are some of the sectors being hit badly, leading to thousands of individuals losing their jobs. This has caused a huge hit to the economy all around the world, GDP growth rate has turned negative, which might lead to a global recession. This doesn't even compare to the plight of the daily-wage workers.
Governments across the globe are putting in their best efforts to help the people who are the indirect victims of this pandemic. However, this will be more successful if every individual joined hands with the government and the healthcare system in the prevention of the disease.
The pandemic is bad for everyone, whether we are directly infected with the disease, or we are safe at home. However, it is important to understand the need for social distancing. Having too many infected patients will lead to crowded hospitals and cause more severe complications requiring life support systems and ICUs. While the virus may not affect everyone the same way, the children and elderly, and those with lower immunity systems are at the risk of losing lives. We must quarantine ourselves up to 14 days if we suspect the chances of exposure to this disease.
It is also recommended that we all practice Social Distancing. The respiratory droplets from the infected individual do not travel more than 6ft, and hence it is advised to maintain at least 6ft distance between one another. This way we can reduce the spread of viruses by flattening the curve and not letting them breakout exponentially. This will give the healthcare workers and researchers enough time to develop a vaccine to coronavirus.
With the awareness and research, hope to fight COVID-19 is increasing day by day
- Countries across the world are coming together in research and development of new vaccine/cure to this disease. This may lead to a stronger and long-lasting collaboration among the healthcare systems of the world.
- Social distancing is being practiced and advised in all cities. A few major corporations have taken a significant cut in their profits and are helping fight this pandemic.
- We have come to realize that the most essential thing is having good health, some food on the plate, and a roof on our heads. Even the sales of iPhones and other electronic goods are stopped due to pandemic. Amazon and other online e-commerce stores are only supplying essential items to our doorstep.
I conclude this article with the hopes that humanity doesn't forget the lessons learned due to the COVID-19 crisis. Giving the whole world, and ourselves a break doesn't seem so bad. We have witnessed first-hand improvements in our nature because of social distancing. With pollution levels decreased both in air and water, we can see mountains from far away, penguins and ducks are swimming freely in places where they were never known to exist before. The birds chirping has increased in the urban areas in recent days. Also, this summer is not as hot as it was expected to be. :)