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Know your enemy: Coronavirus

by Murat

Know your enemy: Cronovirus

You have seen that recently the world is in a panic due to the increasing amount of cases related to Coronavirus. What exactly are they? Why do they cause death? How dangerous are they?  As someone who is doing a Ph.D. in Biology, I am following this closely. Here, without getting too technical, I want to explain a little bit about Coronavirus.


  • The virus that causes SARS and MERS belongs to the same family.
  • The way of spread is probably air droplets that stick in the air from patients.
  • No cure is present. So far only a diagnosis method is developed.
  • It is an RNA virus that constantly mutates and mostly affects the lungs.
  • 23 confirmed cases outside China

First of all  this virus is not new to us. Have you remembered the virus that causes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) or MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome)? If you haven’t guessed by now, yes they both are caused by the other family members of coronavirus. They both affect the respiratory system resembling pneumonia and unfortunately, they were deadly (30-40% of all cases). So far we neither had a vaccine nor treatment.

The family of Coronavirus affects wild animals like bat, livestock, whale, birds, and mice. Animal to human transmission is rare but from time to time, as you can see, it happens. Scientists call this new virus ‘’2019-nCoV’’ and it is thought to be originated in the Wuhan Seafood market.

The reason why they affect the respiratory system can be explained by basic Virology. To make things simpler, think about like this: virus makes a protein (to spread) and this protein fits perfectly to the receptor that is located on the lungs. Take SARS for example, the receptor that it binds is called ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme-2). Now the problem is ,to my knowledge, we do not know the receptor that 2019-nCoV binds to.  It is somewhere in the lungs perhaps. However, there are thousands of active genes and lungs. We can start with isolating the protein to obtain its structural information and then test it for potential receptors but still, it is too difficult. Overall, many scientists and budget are necessary. It can be a good way to spend our tax money.

Anyway, let’s continue with their genome. It is a rather small consist of around 30.000 bases. (To give you an idea, our genome has around base pair) and unlike us, their genome made up of an RNA. Why is this important? Because RNA is more prone to mutations. This is exactly the reason why viruses are evolving. At this point, I don’t think big pharma is in it and its human-made virus. Let’s get this straight. The virus evolves and we can not control their mutations. There is simply too many factors pretty much everything that you can think of causes mutations, even UV from the sun itself.

Chinese scientists published the full genome of the virus and the CDC developed a diagnosis system based on qRT-PCR (quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction). It is a test that usually takes 2 hours to complete. At least, you can get the proper diagnosis if you suspect an abnormality. There is no cure or vaccine yet. Doctors can help you to relieve the symptoms. When it comes to viruses, isolation of causative protein and vaccine development can take more than 5 years.

What are countries doing now?

Well, they work hard to make sure it doesn’t spread. They strictly control the people from flights come from China. In the USA, flights from China might be directed to 5 airports that have infection control centers. Countries constantly share information about diagnosis and treatment.

What can you do?

At this point, it is certain that it transmits from human to another human. Although it is detected in around 2000 people, only a number of deaths occurred. That means you should keep your immune system strong.

Other than that, you can take some personal precautions such as avoiding kissing, handshaking, or any close contact especially if you have flu. If you possess pneumonia-like symptoms or your flu doesn’t recover in a week, make sure to visit a doctor. It is very important to identify the source and isolate it. If you sneeze, make sure that you cover your mouth as particles stay on the air for a long time this is how it spreads! Mind your personal hygiene. Do not touch your mouth if your hands are not washed. If you have the flu, wearing a mask can highly reduce the transmission rate. Carrying hand sanitizer gels also helps.

Also, avoid traveling to China. If you return from China, monitor your health status. If you observe fever, dry cough, pneumonia-like symptoms avoid human contact to reduce the transmission rate and inform your house doctor immediately. They will tell you the further steps.

For updated numbers: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Further readings: doi:10.1001/jama.2020.0757  , doi: 10.1002/jmv.25681

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