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Information on the Coronavirus

March 9, 2020 | Health & Wellness

Coronavirus causes worldwide concern

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Coronaviruses come from a family of viruses which can infect humans, birds and other mammals. The infections in humans can cause cold or flu-like symptoms, respiratory infections and in some cases severe multi-organ failure leading to death.

Coronaviruses were responsible for the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002-2003, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2015 and now the most recent outbreak in China.The family of coronavirus is often categorized in four subgroups: alpha, beta, gamma and epsilon. The new coronavirus does not have a subgroup name and is simply labelled novel (meaning new) coronavirus. The coronavirus gets its name from its appearance, which has a numerous spike projections on its rounded surface which looks like a crown or “corona” in Latin.


These spike projections were used by the virus to latch onto cells which it infects. Once this occurs, the infected cell’s internal mechanisms are then hijacked by the virus to start making new viruses, and therefore spread the infection through the host or infected person. There are coronaviruses that are common to humans that do not cause severe illness to their human host, but rather cause upper respiratory illnesses such as the cold, sore throat and fevers. However, even these human borne coronaviruses can cause severe illnesses such as pneumonia in patients whose immune system are weakened.


The other coronaviruses, which caused MERS and SARS and the novel coronavirus, are found in animal hosts such as bats or camels before making their way to humans where they can cause severe infections. Once they are migrated from their animal host to humans, human-to-human transmission is usually by respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze. It is unlikely that the typical surgical masks can prevent the virus droplets from infecting someone, but hand washing can help as the virus can also be found on multiple surfaces. It is uncertain how long the novel coronavirus can survive outside of its host, human or otherwise. The novel coronavirus is a betacoronavirus which is believed to have originated from bats. It is unclear how the initial transmission occurred from bats to humans although it is thought to have happened through an intermediate host, such as another animal which then passed on the virus to humans.


Once someone has been infected it is believe that symptoms can take between two and a few weeks to develop, which is the reason why recent travelers from China have been quarantined for that length of time. It is still unknown how long symptoms will last, and whether someone is infectious once there symptoms have resolved. Early symptoms include a cough, fever and shortness of breath. Treatment for the coronasvirus is mainly supportive treatment, since there is no specific anti-viral medication available. These supportive treatments include fluids, rest and medicine to deal with the fever and shortness of breath that is associated with the viral infection. Patients who develop more severe symptoms or complications such as pneumonia, kidney failure or other organ failure are treated with supportive treatment for those organs.




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