Novel COVID-19: Biological Agent of Global Threat

by Aiman Tahir Laghari
Novel COVID-19: Biological Agent of Global Threat

COVID-19 or Coronavirus disease is an infectious disease that has become a pandemic.  The first case of this disease was reported in Wuhan-China. Later, on December 31, 2019, Chinese officials confirmed that dozens of people were infected with this new virus. Since then, COVID-19 has not only infected the people around the globe but has forced the world to go under lockdown due to the speed with which it was spreading.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over the past few months and till now, it has affected about 196 countries & territories/areas, infecting about 375,498 people and more cases are emerging with each passing day. 

Before we dig further into COVID-19, let’s take a look at the cause, sign and symptoms of this disease. But, first, let’s see why it is called COVID-19.

The Mystery of COVID-19:

It is called COVID-19 because this disease is caused by a newly discovered coronavirus which was previously unknown to mankind. Here, in the COVID-19, “CO” stands for the corona, VI” is for a virus, “D” is for disease and “19” because it was discovered in 2019.

Causes of COVID-19 Infection:

COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by the “novel strain of coronaviruses”. Coronaviruses are RNA viruses that are known to cause diseases in birds and mammals. In humans, coronaviruses cause mild infections of respiratory tract disease but this was not the case with COVID-19 which proved to be pandemic. It became as lethal as the SARS and MERS which are flu viruses like the COVID-19 and belong to the same coronavirus family that has caused pandemics in the past.

COVID-19 spreads either Directly or Indirectly from one person to another via droplets of discharge from the nose or saliva when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Hence, it is necessary that a person should practice and follow respiratory etiquettes i.e. cover the face properly while sneezing or coughing, for example, while coughing instead of using hands you can use your bent elbow.

Mode of Transmission of COVID-19:

Coronavirus disease is spread

  • Through the eyes, nose, and mouth via droplets produced by coughing and sneezing of an infected person.
  • Close contact with an infected person as the study shows that the virus can stay in the air for up to 3 hours.
  • Contact with the contaminated surfaces, objects or items of personal use such as cellphones, doorknobs, tables, light switches, floors, desks, handles, toilets, keyboards etc. 

Infected with the COVID-19? But how will you know that it’s due to COVID-19? According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) the sign and symptoms of COVID-19 are as follows:

 Common Sign and Symptoms of COVID-19

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath & Breathing difficulties

According to WHO, in severe cases and the people having weak immune system the COVID-19 can also cause:

  • Pneumonia
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome
  • Kidney failure and even death. 

Emergency Warning Signs include*:

  • Shortness of the breath or difficulty in breathing
  • Pressure or persistent pain in the Chest
  • Bluish lips or face

(Note: *This list of emergency warning signs are not all-inclusive and you should consult your medical officer in case there are other signs and symptoms which are worth concerning.)

It should also be noted that in some cases, the people infected with the coronavirus (COVID-19) may not show any sign or symptoms or they may only experience “mild to moderate” respiratory condition and can recover easily due to a better immune system without the need of any special medical treatment.

Who is at Risk of COVID-19 Infection?

This new coronavirus can infect anyone but some people have twice the chance of getting the disease, such as:

  • Older people are twice likely to have COVID-19 illness.
  • Smokers, since this is a respiratory disease virus.
  • People with compromised immune systems such as people suffering from Diabetes, Asthma, Cardiovascular diseases, Cancer, and Chronic respiratory disease etc.
  • It is rare and mild in children.

Rumours and Misinformation are creating chaos and panic. By now most of us are this terrified and we keep thinking that Corona is being labelled as Pandemic so Will I die if I catch the disease?

The answer to this question is No and there is NO NEED TO PANIC. COVID-19 has a High Infectivity rate but a Low Mortality Rate!!! Once diagnosed, you have a 97-98% chance of recovery and there is only a 2-3% Mortality rate as studies shows.

 Now, again you must be thinking that if the mortality rate of this virus is low then how come this virus has become Pandemic

Here is the list of things that you need to know about COVID-19 and Corona Viruses, and that why they caused Pandemics in the Past and even now:

  •  The name of the coronaviruses originates from the Latin word “Corona” which means  “wreath” or “Crown”. Coronaviruses are thus named because of their crown-like shape.
  •  Coronaviruses and COVID-19 are RNA enveloped and have single-stranded positive RNA sense genetic material. Their genome size is also one of the largest among RNA viruses.
  •   Coronaviruses are heavier than other RNA viruses so that’s why they can’t stay for a longer period of time in the air.
  • SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and COVID-19 are all coronaviruses also commonly known as flu viruses which have caused Pandemic in the past and even now. They all are RNA viruses.

Now, if we take a deeper look, all these pandemic viruses such as SARS, MERS and even COVID-19, all are RNA viruses so again a question would arise that is there any link between Pandemic and RNA viruses? To answer this, we can look at the following points:

  •  Firstly, the genetic makeup of these viruses are RNA and RNA is unstable than its counterpart DNA. Due to this RNA viruses are more prone to damage and mutation than DNA.
  • Since RNA is unstable, it is difficult to deal with an RNA virus in a laboratory.
  • RNA viruses are quite problematic than DNA because they have a limited capacity of error corrections in the duplication of their genetic makeup.
  •  Most of the RNA viruses live within a host population of “different resilient density known as Quasispecies”. These intra-host variants help these RNA-viruses to evade the immune response and cause chronic infections.
  • COVID-19 too is from the RNA coronavirus family, that’s why it underwent mutation due to being unstable that’s why a new strain COVID-19 came into being. Due to the limited capacity of correcting errors in its genetic makeup, it keeps on changing like other flu viruses.
  •  Human Coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s but a study found out that these coronaviruses are evolving since long before this. When the researchers used the molecular clock technique to study the HCoV-229, which is a common cold coronavirus, they discovered that it has been present in the human population for centuries and dates back to 1053 AD, which shows that it branched off from a “Viral Ancestor” and became a new strain of its own.
  • Coronaviruses are exceptionally unique in a way that they can replicate in multiple hosts or species that’s how this new novel COVID-19 came into being.
  • Coronaviruses have a high substitution rate, replicate rapidly, highly vulnerable to recombination and difficult to culture in the laboratory, that is the very reason there is little data on its metabolic process and more information on transmission.
  • Due to these factors especially, the continuous mutation, variable pathogenic and antigenic behaviour of flu viruses (MERS, SARS and COVID-19) it is difficult to develop a vaccine.

Treatment Against COVID-19:

COVID-19 is still a developing story, and at the moment there are no specific medical treatments or vaccines available for COVID-19. But, scientists are conducting many trials and even many clinical trials are already ongoing to evaluate the possible treatments and potential anti-viral therapy, as per reports of WHO. 

BUT NO NEED TO WORRY! Studies show that there are many ways to protect yourself from the COVID-19 and as they say PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE. As per the data collected from WHO, CDC and various studies here is the list of things that you need to follow to protect yourself and people around you from COVID-19.

The First line of Defense to protect yourself from COVID-19

Wash your Hands Regularly and Thoroughly 

  • Yes, it is the best and cheapest way to protect yourself. Wash your hands Regularly and Thoroughly using soap and water or using alcohol-based rubs/sanitisers at least for 20 seconds. This will help in killing the viruses and other pathogens on your hands.

 (Note: Do not use sanitisers or alcohol-based rubs on your face)

Thoroughly Cooking of Food

  • There is no such evidence of Corona spreading through food however, experts suggest that Eggs and meat should be thoroughly cooked. Eat a healthy nutritious diet to boost your immune system because if you have a strong immune system, you’ll automatically be less prone to viral infection. Prevention is Better than Cure!!!

Maintain Social Distancing 

  • Maintain at least a distance of 1 metre (3 feet) between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.  This is both for your and others safety. 

Avoid Touching Eyes, Nose and Mouth

  • Your hands can easily pick up viruses as hands touch many surfaces frequently. So, once your hands are contaminated and then if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the virus will easily enter your body and make you sick.

Practice Respiratory Hygiene Properly

  • COVID-19 spreads through droplets. Hence, make sure to cover your nose & mouth with tissue or elbow when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of the tissue immediately after use and wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with water and soap, or sanitisers/ alcohol rubs. 

Fever, Cough and Difficulty Breathing? Seek Medical Care Early!

  • Stay home if you feel unwell and seek medical attention and call the Health/Medical Officer or the concerned authority regarding COVID-19. Follow the directions of your local health authority and visit the Corona Screening Center in case of persistent symptoms.

Clean and Disinfect- Frequently Touched Surfaces!

  • Clean and Disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily i.e. Phones, desks, tables, doorknobs, countertops, light switches, handles, keyboards, toilets, faucet, and sinks.
  •  If surfaces are Dirty, Clean them. Use detergents or soaps and water before disinfection.

Stay updated and follow the advice given by your Healthcare Provider

  • Stay informed and updated about the latest developments about Corona (COVID-19). Follow the directions of your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Manage your stress and follow all the SOPs to protect yourself and your beloved ones.

Cooperate with the Local Authority as it’s for your own safety. Protecting yourself and others from COVID-19 is our duty as an individual as well. All you need to do is

  • Be Informed
  • Be Alert & don’t Panic
  • Be Prepared
  • Be Supportive
  • Be Kind
  • Be Safe

In case of emergency, you can call the Official Helpline (1166) by the Government of Pakistan.

Stay Safe For Yourself & for Others!!!

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