Verifying Facts and Myths; All You Need to Know About the Invisible Enemy!

The world is at war, fighting an enemy who has no armory, guns missiles or even the trendy drones. This is an enemy devoid of sympathy, he knows not any status; be it the rich, the poor, the super powers, the kings and their subjects, 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 10th world country, the invisible enemy will attack! This enemy is the novel corona virus (Covid-19).So what is a corona virus? 

A corona virus is a positive single stranded RNA virus in the order of nidovirales, from the sub-family orthocoronavirinae which is classified into four corona virus genera; alpha, beta, delta and gamma coronaviruses. Corona viruses are named after their appearance; under a microscope, the viruses look like they are covered with pointed structures that surround them like a corona or crown.

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An electron microscope image showing particles of the new coronavirus being released from an infected cell. Image credit: The University of Hong Kong

Corona viruses have been known to be human pathogens since the 1960s, they cause illness among humans and other vertebrates. In humans, the many kinds of corona viruses cause majorly gastro intestinal and respiratory illnesses which range from common colds and serious diseases like the severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (commonly known as SARS) which peaked in 2003 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that struck in 2012. Epithelial cells in respiratory and gastro intestinal tract are the primary target cells and thus viral shedding occurs via these systems and transmission can occur through different routes; fomites, airborne and faecal oral.

There are many kinds of corona viruses. Corona viruses are though common in different animals, rarely can an animal corona virus infect humans. Viruses can change over time, occasionally a disease outbreak happens when a virus that is common in an animal such as a pig, bat undergoes a change (mutation) and passes to humans. This is the most likely hypothesis of how it came to attack humans.

To date, seven corona viruses have been shown to infect humans. Common ones are Beta Corona virus, HCOV-OC43 and HCOV-HKUI as well as Alpha Corona Virus HCOV-229E which cause common colds and also severe lower respiratory tract infections in younger and older age groups. There are also zoonotic corona viruses that have emerged and caused outbreaks in humans like the SARS-COV, MERS-COV and the recently discovered SARS-COV2 or the novel Corona Virus related to a cluster of pneumonia and was discovered in Wuhan (China). This novel Corona Virus (Covid-19) is closely related to SARS-COV and genetically clusters within beta Corona Viruses.

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As per April 1st 2020, 212 Countries and Territories around the world have reported a total of 3,333,193 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Human infections with common Corona Viruses are mostly mild and asymptomatic though severe and fatal infections have been observed like for the case of the novel Corona Virus which in most cases is severe and fatal though it can also be asymptomatic as statistics confirm. Some of the symptoms of the novel Corona Virus are shortness of breath, fever, coughing.

In addition to the known symptoms, anosmia-loss of sense of smell (and in some cases loss of sense of taste) have been reported as a symptom of the corvid 19 infection. There is evidence from South Korea, Italy, and china that patients confirmed with the Covid-19 infection have developed anosmia/hyposmia (loss or partial loss of sense of smell), in some cases in the absence of any other symptoms.

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Patients suffering from the Corona Virus are reported to experience loss of the sense of smell (anosmia/hyposmia).

As regards the novel Corona Virus, epidemiological and serological information is still lacking limiting the ability of scientists to describe the full disease spectrum caused by this virus. Though this virus is transmitted from person to person as the common influenza virus, though the two are totally different. 

As it is always noticed, many infectious diseases wax and wane with seasons for instance in some areas where flue arrives with colder seasons. This therefore shows that there could be an effect of temperature on these pathogens. The better stability of the SARS corona virus is the low temperature and low humidity environment which may facilitate its transmission especially in sub-tropical areas. This to some extent could explain why some Asian countries in the tropics like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand with high temperatures and high relative humidity did not have major community outbreaks of the SARS. In relation to this past, it is now a question whether the Covid-19 will be expected to undergo this seasonality since the largest outbreaks have been in areas with a cooler weather hence the speculation that the disease may disappear with arrival of hot conditions (summer). Scientist are being cautious over banking on this since the Covid-19 is a new virus to have any firm data on how cases will change with weather. The related SARS that spread in 2003 was quickly contained thus provides less precedent information of how it could have reacted to changing seasons.

The SARS Virus which peaked in 2003 is closely related to the Novel Corona Virus.

Owing to the fact that there are many kinds of corona viruses, some clues can be gotten on whether the Covid-19 may be seasonal. In a study conducted 10 years ago by Kate Templeton from the centre of infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, UK, found that three corona viruses all from patients with respiratory tract infections showed marked winter seasonality. These are some of the hints that the novel corona virus may vary with seasons although it is worth noting that the virus has appeared in countries with a wide range of climates including the humid ones, a case example of African countries in the Sahara region like Egypt which is one of the most hit by the virus in Africa.

Some researches show that higher temperatures are linked to the lower incidences of Covid-19 but temperature alone cannot account for the global variation in incidence. Another study shows that areas with temperature extremes are the most vulnerable to the current outbreak, the arid regions for example. Tropical parts of the world are least affected, according to the study. 

Unfortunately most researchers are relying on computer modelling and this leaves a lot of uncertainty concerning temperatures and the novel corona virus.

Due to these uncertainties of the temperatures, one would wonder about the immunity of the Africans towards the novel Corona Virus. Studies show a difference in the immunities of Africans and Europeans which is controlled by genetics but this cannot be used in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic with claims that Africans are immune to the virus. This has not been scientifically proven but from the ground Africans too have succumbed to the virus. This therefore disapproves the myth that Africans are immune to the novel Corona Virus.

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The race is on to discover the Corona Virus Vaccine. However, currently no known universally approved medicine or vaccine exists.

Other myths are also prevalent like bathing warm water kills the virus and thus healing an infected person. Bathing warm water does not change the body’s internal conditions. In fact the body tends to maintain a constant temperature, so the warm water will literally have no effect on the virus once the person is infected.

To-date no cure or vaccine of the novel Corona Virus has been found but myths keep on coming up thanks to the scientists who have always cone up to clear the air about them. It is possible though to avoid the virus from infecting us. This can be through preventive measures like washing hands with soap and water or an alcohol based sanitiser which can also be used to disinfect surfaces. These kill the virus that could be stuck on the hands or surfaces.

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Ref: John Hopkins medicine, European centre for disease prevention and control.

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