The Novel Coronavirus
In December 2019 there was a cluster of pneumonia cases in China. Chinese officials noted the world that a virus had been spreading through their community by the name of the Novel Coronavirus. Within 3 months, this spread to 208 countries and a total of 1,218,126 confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19 were present. Further, It was declared as a pandemic by the WHO. The immense sprawl of the virus in such a short time boggled minds and people were inquisitive to know how this virus functioned.
The structure of the virus is such that it has genetic material in the center, surrounded by an envelope of glycoprotein spikes giving it the look of a crown, and in Latin, crown is called “corona”. Thus the name-Coronavirus.
Coronavirus belongs to a large family of viruses which primarily attack the respiratory system of the organism. The coronavirus is propagated by various animals such as bats, ducks and camels. Despite various scientific inquiries and experiments, the origins of the virus is yet something that needs further investigation. The only confirmed information is that this virus traces back to a live animal market in Wuhan.
The coronavirus spreads mainly through exposure to droplets from coughing or sneezing, or physical contact with an infected person. So when an infected person coughs or sneezes, they let out a numerous droplets of saliva, and if these droplets reach the nose, eyes, or mouth of another person, they potentially become infected and become carriers of the virus.
As the virus enters through the nose or mouth, it directly comes into contact with the throat and lung cells by interlocking one of its protein spikes with the receptors on the cell lining. From here, they are able to enter the cell and now have control over the entire unit, including all organelles.
Now that they has entered the cell, they use their RNA to form duplicates of the genetic material through the ribosomes. The virus practically hijacks the essential parts producing its own genetic material and proteins for the production of more viruses. The new viruses, produced from the genetic material and proteins, move out of the cell membrane and destroy the host cell.
As the virus keeps spreading, our immune response gets triggered because of which we experience symptoms such as cold, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fever and dizziness. These symptoms are often not taken seriously (a mistake many made) due to its widespread normality. However, children and old people are much more susceptible to this virus and have a higher fatality as well due to their weak immune system.
Medical experts suggest that we isolate ourselves from the outside world and keep washing our hands regularly with soap at different times of the day. This is recommended because virus is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart. Most viruses consist of three key building blocks: ribonucleic acid (RNA), proteins and lipids. A virus-infected cell makes lots of these building blocks, which then spontaneously self-assemble to form the virus. Critically, there are no strong covalent bonds holding these units together, which means you do not necessarily need harsh chemicals to split those units apart.
As of 8th April 2020, 14,47,466 cases have been recorded globally with 83,471 deaths and 308,215 people recovered from this disease. Many countries have imposed a lockdown including India, Italy, Spain, USA, etc. as the situation continues to worsen day by day. In India itself there are 5,274 confirmed cases while 149 have died and 411 people recovered. China however is now recovering from this disease, and there have been continued efforts by scientists all over the globe to look for a vaccine. In India recently virologist Minal Dakhave Bhosale led from the front to develop India’s first coronavirus testing kit, which will definitely prove to be extremely helpful in detecting further cases in the country. Hence this is a beacon of hope in truly devastating times for all mankind.