Fast Facts from an anonymous Colorado medical doctor.
1. Viruses are very small. Coronavirus is 1/16 the width of a human hair.
2. Viruses are not alive. They do not breathe, eat, or reproduce. By contrast, bacteria are living organisms.
3. Antibiotics work by interfering with the life cycle of bacteria and killing them. Antibiotics have little to no impact on viruses as they are not living.
4. A virus is like a tiny machine. It is not made of metal or plastic but of chemicals. It has a capsule or covering and an interior.
5. When a virus comes in contact with a living organism, if the shape of part of the virus covering and the shape of objects (doorways) on the cell’s surface are a fit, the virus can enter the cell and take it over.
6. Once inside, the virus’s chemicals take over the cell machinery, make copies of the virus which then overwhelm the cell, killing it and spewing new virus particles out which go on to infect more cells.
7. The host’s immune system will begin to recognize that the host is being invaded and use its defenses to try to fight off the virus. One type of defense is antibodies: these coat the virus surface making it harder for the virus to enter healthy cells and at the same time triggering other body defenses (types of white blood cells) to attack the virus.
8. Symptoms in the infected person result from a combination of the hosts own cells dying and not being available to do what they should and the immune system’s defensive actions which can harm the body’s own cells as it tries to kill the invader.
9. Because the ability of the little machine we call a virus to enter a cell depends on fitting into a pre-existing entryway on a host cell, different viruses attack different parts of the body. For example, the mumps virus attacks cells that have an entryway located on the parotid gland in the neck, some parts of the chest, pancreas, and testicles and ovaries. As the immune systems ramps up, then those parts of the body get swollen. The coronavirus uses an entryway called the ACE-2 which is present in many parts of the body including respiratory cells which are the first point of attack.
10. When a host’s immune system overwhelms a virus there is recovery from symptoms. This may be a total recovery, leaving the body with the antibodies to prevent reinfection. Sometimes antibodies last a lifetime, other times only a few weeks or months.
11. Since the immune system is active only outside of cells, sometimes a virus can remain lurking inside cells for many years. For example, the chicken pox virus hides deep in the nervous system along the spinal cord until something triggers it to come out and then it causes shingles. Herpes viruses hide in nerve ending and come out from time to time causing cold sores. HIV virus can hide in brain cells. Other coronaviruses have not been hiders, but we do not yet know about this one. Most likely it does not, but that is a guess, not a fact.
12. Viruses always have a coating which surrounds its other chemicals. If a virus loses its coating the machine no longer works. Sometimes these coatings are easily destroyed by sunlight or drying or humidity. Other times they are very tough and can survive freezing, high heat or disinfectants. You may have heard that as Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting, we know some viruses are now being released into water that have been frozen for thousands of years. This worries scientists as humans and animals most likely have no immunity to these very old viruses. When we ask the question, “How long can a virus live on a surface?” what we really mean is “How long does it take the capsule or coating to be disrupted?” as viruses are not ever living.
13. Why might some medicines or chemicals work against viruses? Hydroxychloroquine is a medication which might work against a coronavirus. It changes the doorways on your cells so the virus cannot get inside the cell as effectively. However, it is a medicine that can be very toxic as we need those doorways for normal purposes. The medication is normally used against malaria which is caused by a protozoan. Protozoans are alive, like bacteria, but differ from bacteria in that they have a nucleus and other organelles such as tails whereas bacteria lack these things. Something that kills a virus in a test tube (in vitro) may not be able to be safely adapted to a medicine to put into your body.
14. You have to keep a virus out of you because once it is inside it will hijack your cells, make more copies of itself, kill the cells and make you miserable or even kill you. It is very hard to stop this process.
Know your enemy and stay safe. Good Luck all.