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COVID-19: Overview, How to Stay Safe, and Possible Treatments

By: Sai Srihaas Potu

As the days go by, researchers are racing to learn more about the virology, epidemiology, and clinical features of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Originating from a small pace in Wuhan, China, the COVID virus has taken the lives of thousands of people and infected over two million people to this day. Until a vaccine is created, CDC and WHO officials don’t see an end to this pandemic. Even though there is no vaccine for the virus, there are many precautions that people can take to protect themselves from being diagnosed with COVID-19. In order to understand how to better protect ourselves, we first need to understand the virology of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in order to determine how it can infect our body.


The SARS-CoV-2 virion (a single virus particle) is about 80 nanometers wide and is made up of a sphere of proteins that protect a ball of RNA, the virus’s genetic code. The protein spikes on the virus attach themselves to a cell called ACE2. ACE2 is an enzyme that is predominantly found in vascular endothelial cells and controls different cardiac functions including regulating blood pressure. However, when the SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches itself to the enzyme, it sets off chemical changes that allow the membrane around the two cellular bodies to fuse together ultimately allowing the RNA of the virus to enter the cell.

Subsequently, the virus then takes control of the protein-producing machinery in order to translate its RNA into new copies of the virus. In a short period, the virus will be able to produce thousands of virions that will go and fuse together with other healthy cells. Ultimately, the virions will continue to take over other cells in our bodies until our immune system is able to respond.

The immune system responds by sending white blood cells to exterminate the infected cells and other virions. The white blood cells will ingest the virions, produce antibodies in order to protect virions from entering other host cells, and create chemicals that will destroy infected cells. However, this is not enough to completely fight off the virus. Without proper treatment options, our immune systems are struggling to fight off the virus.

Recent research has shown that in some cases our body’s response to the virus can be more damaging. Prolonged fevers and overzealous production of cytokines are just a few examples of how our immune system can damage our own body. Overproduction of cytokines can be deadly for our body as it can lead to hyper-inflammation. It is the job of our immune system to protect our bodies, but we should take our own actions in order to stay safe during these tough times.

According to the CDC and WHO, there are many precautions that we can take to better protect our body from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Some of the recommended actions in order to minimize exposure to droplets include washing our hands and cleaning surfaces with disinfectant. At the same time, we must avoid crowded areas since recent reports show that the virus can travel via respiratory droplets up to six feet from an infected person. Though these precautions sometimes won’t be enough, we can still try to do our best to keep ourselves safe during this pandemic.

The SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic virus since it can jump from another species to human hosts. In the past, it has been very difficult for researchers to quickly develop vaccines for zoonotic diseases. However, Moderna Pharmaceuticals has created a new method that involves copying the genetic makeup of the virus and adding it to artificial nanoparticles. This allows the company to create a vaccine much quicker since they are basing it off of the genetic sequence rather than the virus itself. In light of this method, scientists are questioning whether this vaccine would be strong enough to evoke a sufficient response from the immune system.


Besides a vaccine, researchers are looking into the use of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, and favipiravir in order to stop the virus from entering host cells which will keep it from replicating its genomes. Another possible solution is the use of antibodies from the people who have recovered from the virus. This will allow for a short term immunity from the virus until a long term solution can be created. Though this methodology has worked for previous pandemics, it is still unclear how effective it will be against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Investigating the specific pathological mechanisms of the virus will be vital in developing effective treatments for the coronavirus and other SARS related pandemics in the future.


References:

1. Ju B., Zhang Q., Ge X., Wang R., Sun J., Ge X., Yu J., Shan S., Zhou B., Song S. Human neutralizing antibodies elicited by SARS-CoV-2 infection. Nature. 2020.

2. Lu R., Zhao X., Li J., Niu P., Yang B., Wu H., Wang W., Song H., Huang B., Zhu N. Genomic characterization and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding. Lancet. 2020.

3. Zhang L., Zhang F., Yu W., He T., Yu J., Yi C.E., Ba L. Antibody responses against SARS coronavirus are correlated with disease outcome of infected individuals. Journal of Medical Virology. 2006.

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