The SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus (COVID-19)
The virus that causes Covid-19 has currently taken an endemic form. At least six other types of coronavirus are known to infect humans. Some causes the common cold and two of them are responsible for the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Covered with Spikes
The coronavirus is named after the crownlike spikes that are projected from its surface. The virus is surrounded by a bubble of oily lipid molecules, which breaks down in contact with soap.
Entering a vulnerable cell
The virus enters the body through the nose, mouth or eyes, and gets attached to cells in the airway that produce a protein called ACE2. The virus is believed to have originated in bats, where it may have attached to a similar protein.
Releasing Viral RNA
The virus infects the cell by fusing its oily membrane with the membrane of the cell. Once inside, the coronavirus releases a snippet of genetic material called RNA.
Hijacking the Cell
The virus’s genome is less than 30,000 genetic “letters” long. (Human being has over 3 billion.) The infected cell reads the RNA and begins making proteins that will keep the immune system at bay and help assemble new copies of the virus.
Antibiotics kill bacteria and do not work against viruses. But researchers are testing antiviral drugs that might disrupt viral proteins and stop the infection.
Making Viral Proteins
As the infection progresses, the machinery of the cell begins to churn out new spikes and other proteins that will form more copies of the coronavirus.
Assembling New Copies
New copies of the virus are assembled and carried to the outer edges of the cell.
Spreading the Infection
Each infected cell can release millions of copies of the virus before the cell finally breaks down and dies. The viruses may infect nearby cells, or end up in droplets that escape the lungs.
Most Covid-19 infections cause a fever as the immune system fights to clear the virus. In severe cases, the immune system can overreact and start attacking lung cells. The lungs become obstructed with fluid and dying cells, making it difficult to breathe. A small percentage of infections can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, and possibly death.
Leaving the Body
Coughing and sneezing can expel virus-laden droplets onto nearby people and surfaces, where the virus can remain infectious for several hours to several days. The C.D.C. recommends that people diagnosed with Covid-19 wear masks to reduce the release of viruses. Health care workers and others who care for infected people should wear masks, too.
A Possible Vaccine
A future vaccine could help the body produce antibodies that target the SARS-CoV-2 virus and prevent it from infecting human cells. The flu vaccine works in a similar way, but antibodies generated from a flu vaccine do not protect against coronavirus.
How Soap Works
Soap destroys the virus when the water-shunning tails of the soap molecules wedge themselves into the lipid membrane and pry it apart.
The best way to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus is to wash your hands with soap, avoid touching your face, keep your distance from sick people and regularly clean frequently used surfaces.