Ask a Doctor: Facts about coronavirus COVID-19


By Dr. Solomon Beraki - Guest Column



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Question: How does a virus start? How did the coronavirus begin? Could a virus like this be manmade? – Ralph, of Fort Jennings

Coronavirus is all over the news these days.

Why is it called coronavirus? They are important human and animal pathogens. Under electron microscopy they appear like a crown. The name coronavirus is derived from the Latin corona, meaning crown.

These viruses are widespread among birds and mammals including camels, cattle, cats and bats, with bats being host to the largest variety of coronaviruses.

There are seven coronaviruses (including the recent one) known to cause disease in humans. Four of them are human coronaviruses, (229E, NL63, HKU1 and OC43) the rest three are zoonotic in origin, meaning they are acquired from animals. When humans come in close contact with infected animals, they get the infection. We will continue to see new — novel — coronaviruses emerge causing disease like the one we are dealing with now. Given the wide distribution of coronaviruses and the frequent recombination of their genetic material and the increasing human and animal interactions, we will continue to see new coronaviruses emerge causing disease outbreaks.

During common cold season, up to one third of common colds are related to coronaviruses. They also cause stomach upsets in infants and children.

There is no evidence that the virus was made by humans.

The first zoonotic coronavirus to cause human disease was the SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory distress syndrome) outbreak of 2002 and 2003 in Guangdong Province, China. It was linked to contact with infected animals, probably palm civets or bats. Improper handling of the virus in the laboratory also contributed to disease outbreak.

The second zoonotic coronavirus was the MERS-CoV (Middle Eastern) outbreak of 2012. Dromedary camels appear to be the primary animal host.

The recent novel coronavirus named COVID-19 was identified in December 2019 after clusters of patients with pneumonia of unknown cause were linked to a seafood and wet animal market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. The virus was isolated from lung secretions. It was cloned and the genetic material was identified. It appears to be closely related to a coronavirus that circulates in bats.

Understanding about this novel coronavirus is evolving. Epidemiologic investigation in Wuhan identified an initial association with a seafood market where most patients had worked or visited. The seafood market also sold live rabbits, snakes and other animals. it appears that bats are the primary source.

Person-to-person spread is thought to occur mainly via droplets spread in the air during coughing and sneezing. The spread is similar to influenza.

The symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as long as 14 days after exposure. It causes pneumonia manifesting with fever, cough and shortness of breath. The abnormal chest X-ray appears most frequently. One in five confirmed cases have severe illness requiring intensive care unit admission in a hospital.

The overall case death rate is unknown but appears around 3%. Most of the deaths so far have occurred in patients who have some underlying previously existing medical condition. Mild illness in young adults have been described. The frequency of infection appearing silently without symptoms is unknown. Treatment is manly supportive. There is no curative medicine. Investigational agents are being explored. Quarantine of infected people is being done to slow the spread of the disease.

The World Health Organization and CDC are actively working to contain the transmission of the virus.

Some research is also going on to develop a vaccine.

Individuals with suspected infection should wear a medical mask to contain their secretions and need to seek medical care. Avoidance of close contact with people who are sick, hand washing with soap and water or hand washing with at least 60% alcohol, covering your cough and sneeze with a tissue and then throwing the tissue in the trash, cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe is advised. The WHO and CDC web sites are excellent resources for the latest information on the coronavirus outbreak.

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By Dr. Solomon Beraki

Guest Column

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