The Invisible Enemy

The Science Behind COVID-19


Brianna O'Callaghan, Reporter

Pick one patient: a 70-year-old woman, a 40-year-old man with no underlying health conditions, or a 18-year-old girl with asthma. One potentially lives with the last available ventilator, and two are sent home. This is what doctors and nurses all over the world are having to face because of how dangerous COVID-19 has become. And in this specific case, the 40-year-old lives. 

In December of 2019, China’s officials announced they had a deadly virus spreading rapidly in their communities. Within months, this virus moved from China to other countries, impacting  Italy, Spain, and the U.S. the most. With new testing procedures being used, the virus seemed to be taking over hospitals and communities within days. 

Breakdown of COVID-19

“Coronavirus is the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-Related to Coronavirus 2,” said Philip Dettmer on med In simple terms, it is a virus: a compound of genetic materials (nucleic acid) and a protein coat that can only spread when it enters the living cell or the host. Under a microscope, “this virus looks like a crown with spikes going all the way around it. And that’s where coronaviruses got their name; Corona is Latin for crown,” said Carl Zimmer on med Corona is spread through respiratory droplets that enter another person’s body by touching the face around the eyes and nose. Then these virus cells enter the body and end up in the spleen, intestines, or the lungs; where they do the most damage. 

How COVID-19 Works

Think of a time you got really sick. You have a fever, feel fatigued, might even have a cough. This is how you know your body is doing a lot of work to fight off those virus cells. Coronavirus is the exact same way.

How it works: coronavirus cells flood the lungs looking for “good” cells to infect. “The lungs are lined with billions of epithelial cells waiting to get infected. Coronavirus connects to a specific receptor on its victim’s membrane and injects it with its genetic material,” said Dettmer on med Here the good cells are given instructions to copy these virus cells, multiplying the number of bad cells rapidly. The last instruction: self destruct. All the virus cells are now free to infect nearby cells, and the process continues until, in just ten days, there are billions of viruses in your lungs. 

But we’re not done yet. Your body realizes the danger it is in and releases your immune system to attack. Think of your immune system as soldiers, each individual cell fighting the virus cells. These cells rush in and attack as many bad cells as they can, killing just as many good cells as bad. These white blood cells also become infected in the process by virus cells, making things much worse. 

Your immune system cells send for more help, using more resources than needed and calling for the most deadly weapon they have: the Killer-T cell. These cells search for the infected cells and order them to commit controlled suicide. But along the way, they order your good cells to do the same. 

This is why many who have recovered from COVID-19 develop extreme scar tissue called Fibrosis, which can lead to later diseases and difficulties in the lungs. With the scar tissue built up in the lungs, it becomes significantly more difficult to breathe. Now add that to the absence of cell lining in the lungs, and the lungs can now be easily filled with bacteria leading to patients acquiring pneumonia and in need of ventilators. At this point, your body has been fighting for weeks, and if it is not strong enough to fight the bacteria, the bacteria will enter the blood, leading to unavoidable death. 

Why COVID-19 Is So Dangerous

Coronavirus was compared to the influenza virus during the first few months of studying COVID-19, but with better knowledge, we know it is far from it.

Like the flu, coronavirus attacks your respiratory system- your nose, throat, and lungs. COVID-19 is not only much deadlier, but it is also much more contagious. One sufferer of the flu typically infects around one new person whereas one COVID-19 patient typically infects two to three new people. The reason why these numbers are almost tripled is because coronavirus victims are in some cases completely asymptomatic for up to two weeks. That means these individuals are touching doorknobs, hugging family members, and going to public places like grocery stores without knowing they are infected; inevitably spreading the virus to multiple people. 

Staying Safe From COVID

Below are five ways The World Health Organization has released to keep safe from COVID-19:

1. Flattening the Curve 

Stay home. Most diseases start with few victims but rise to much larger groups of infected people, reaching a peak, and then falling back down. Flattening the curve will help our hospitals treat everyone with COVID-19 with as little deaths as possible.

2. Social Distance

Keep a safe distance. Scientists have said that COVID-19 can be spread up to six feet. This means public transportation and other crowded areas should be avoided as much as possible. 

3. Wash hands often

This may get an eye roll or two, but it should be known that washing your hands is extremely helpful. Each virus cell that may be on your hand is covered in a fat cell (lipids). When you wash your hands well, these coating layers shed leaving a very vulnerable cell that can no longer infect you. Washing your hands rids your skin of the cells meaning the next time you itch your nose or eyes, you will not get infected. 

4. Cover your cough

This should already be a given. One of the ways the virus spreads is through respiratory droplets. But if you cover your cough, you most likely will not infect others. 

5. Sick? Call ahead

Instead of going to the doctor the second you feel sick, you should call ahead. This prevents others from getting the virus who are also at the doctor.