We’re beginning to understand the biology of the Covid-19 virus

Scientists are working around the clock to understand the biology of the covid-19 virus and how it infects human cells, which will help us design treatments to stop it

A cutaway of the structure of the new coronavirus
THE covid-19 virus is humanity’s newest foe, with the potential to prematurely end millions of lives. To control this new coronavirus, we need to understand it. Labs around the world are now working around the clock in a bid to know their enemy.

Three crucial questions are occupying virologists. What makes the new virus so good at infecting people? How does it reproduce so quickly once it is inside us? And why doesn’t the virus cause symptoms straight away, allowing it to spread undetected? The answers will suggest ways to treat.

How is COVID-19 spread?

Recent information indicates COVID-19 may be passed from person to person. Community spread is being seen, also. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in a particular area, including some people who are not sure how or where they became infected. COVID-19 has been detected in people throughout China and in over 100 other countries, including the United States.

The spread of this new coronavirus is being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization and health organizations like Johns Hopkins across the globe. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a public health emergency.

How did this new coronavirus spread to humans?

COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, a city in China, in December 2019. Although health officials are still tracing the exact source of this new coronavirus, early hypotheses thought it may be linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China. Some people who visited the market developed viral pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus. A study that came out on Jan. 25, 2020, notes that the individual with the first reported case became ill on Dec. 1, 2019, and had no link to the seafood market. Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.

This virus probably originally emerged from an animal source but now seems to be spreading from person to person. COVID-19 has been detected in people throughout China and 24 other countries, including the United States.

How is COVID-19 diagnosed?

Diagnosis may be difficult with only a physical exam because mild cases of COVID-19 may appear similar to the flu or a bad cold. A laboratory test can confirm the diagnosis.

How is COVID-19 treated?

As of now, there is not a specific treatment for the virus. People who become sick from COVID-19 should be treated with supportive measures: those that relieve symptoms. For severe cases, there may be additional options for treatment, including research drugs and therapeutics.

Does COVID-19 cause death?

As of Mar. 9, 2020, 3,995 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19. However, 62,496 people have recovered from the illness.

Is this coronavirus different from SARS?

SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome. In 2003, an outbreak of SARS started in China and spread to other countries before ending in 2004. The virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to the one that caused the 2003 SARS outbreak: both are types of coronaviruses. Much is still unknown, but COVID-19 seems to spread faster than the 2003 SARS and also may cause less severe illness.

How do you protect yourself from this coronavirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has these suggestions:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects people frequently touch.

What are the precautions for coronavirus?

Several health agencies in China and other countries, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States and the World Health Organization (WHO), are keeping a careful eye on this illness and taking steps to prevent it from spreading.

How Coronavirus Got Ttarted

The novel coronavirus outbreak, which began in Wuhan, China, in December, has expanded to touch nearly every corner of the globe. At least 98,000 people around the world have been sickened and thousands have died.

The World Health Organization has declared the virus a global health emergency and rated COVID-19’s global risk of spread and impact as “very high,” the most serious designation the organization gives.

Here’s a timeline of how the outbreak has unfolded so far:

Dec. 31, 2019: WHO learns mysterious pneumonia sickening dozens in China

Health authorities in China confirm that dozens of people in Wuhan, China, were being treated for pneumonia from an unknown source. Many of those sickened had visited a live animal market in Wuhan and authorities said there wasn’t evidence of the virus was spreading from person to person.

Jan. 11, 2020: China reports 1st novel coronavirus death

Chinese state media reports the first death from novel coronavirus, a 61-year-old man who had visited the live animal market in Wuhan.

Jan. 21, 2020: 1st confirmed case in the United States

A man in his 30s from Washington state, who traveled to Wuhan, is diagnosed with novel coronavirus. Japan, South Korea and Thailand also report their first cases a day prior.

Jan. 23, 2020: China imposes strict lockdown in Wuhan

China imposes aggressive containment measures in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, suspending flights and trains and shutting down subways, buses and ferries in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.

Jan. 30, 2020: WHO declares global health emergency

For the sixth time in history, the World Health Organization declares a “public health emergency of international concern,” a designation reserved for extraordinary events that threaten to spread internationally.

Feb. 5, 2020: Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined

More than 3,600 passengers are quarantined on a cruise ship off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, while passengers and crew undergo health screenings. The number of confirmed cases on board the ship would eventually swell to more than 700, making it one of the largest outbreaks outside of China.

Feb. 11, 2020: Novel coronavirus renamed COVID-19

The World Health Organization announces that novel coronavirus’ formal new name is COVID-19. “Co” stands for coronavirus, “Vi” is for virus and “D” is for disease. Health officials purposely avoid naming COVID-19 after a geographical location, animal or group of people, so as not to stigmatize people or places.

Feb. 26, 2020: 1st case of suspected local transmission in the United States

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm the first case of COVID-19 in a patient in California with no travel history to an outbreak area, nor contact with anyone diagnosed with the virus. It’s suspected to be the first instance of local transmission in the United States. Oregon, Washington and New York soon report their own cases of possible community transmission.

Feb. 29, 2020: 1st death reported in the United States

The first COVID-19 death is reported in Washington state, after a man with no travel history to China dies on Feb. 28 at Evergreen Health Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. Two deaths that occurred Feb. 26 at a nearby nursing home would later be recorded as the first COVID-19 deaths to occur in the United States.

March 3, 2020: CDC lifts restrictions for virus testing

The CDC issues new guidance that allows anyone to be tested for the virus without restriction. Previously, only those who had traveled to an outbreak area, who had close contact with people diagnosed with COVID-19 or those with severe symptoms, could get tested.