As the coronavirus panic comes to a case in London, there are more students rushing to buy masks than stopping to understand the virus.
Like the SARS outbreak in 2002, the condition infects perceptions too.
The risk of catching the novel virus is low. But its spread makes learning about the virus indispensable.
Dr. Gregory Dekaban, acting chair of the department of microbiology and immunology, spoke to the Gazette about how the coronavirus works.
“[A virus] can only replicate inside a cell that it infects. It uses the host cell’s machinery to replicate. As a consequence of infecting a cell, the virus may cause the cell to die,” explains Dekaban.
More specifically, coronaviruses are a family of RNA viruses with a distinct outer layer. Dr. Dekaban explains that viruses characterized by this layer are common in a myriad of animal species and have only increased in harmfulness when passed between different species, through a mechanism that is not well known. Eventually, there was a viral transfer from an animal to human.
“The current coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, is thought to have come from bats. There is no firm evidence that the virus came from bats — it could be that the bats acquired it from another species, and [the bats] are just an intermediate," says Dekaban.
However, it’s important to note that the danger of a virus depends on the type of cell that is infected: some cells are stronger, more resilient and will survive the parasitic virus, whereas others will succumb to the infection.
2019-nCoV infects respiratory cells, which causes either the death of the cells or an inflammatory response, both of which can lead to respiratory distress. Due to the virus’ novelty, its exact cellular targets are not well known and investigative research is still being conducted.
As for how it spreads, the transmission of the virus from person-to-person is still poorly understood. But it is believed to spread in close contact between people via air droplets from coughing or sneezing.
To protect yourself from the virus, Dr. Dekaban maintains that good hygiene is vital.
“As is the case with any potentially respiratory virus infection, good hygiene is a good preventer,” he says. “Thoroughly washing your hands [and] using alcohol-based disinfectant products are also helpful. Avoid large groups of people, especially if there are people coughing. It is really about good hygiene. If you are sick the best thing to do is to stay home.”
Dr. Dekaban urges students not to have heightened levels of anxiety or be fearful of being infected by the virus on campus: overall, the risk of transmission is low.
Rather than spreading misinformation and hysteria on coronavirus, be sure educate yourself and others on the facts and science behind it.