COVID

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

For those of you who may have been living under a rock for the past three months, I am here to tell you we are at war! The best way to defeat any foe is to first learn as much about them as possible, to get the scoop on the strengths and weaknesses of the attacking force, to understand what makes them tick. In any war, knowledge brings power. So this month I offer some basics we all need to know about this viral plague that is raging among us.

To one extent, all of us are suffering from fear inducing Corona news overload.  The gloom and doom just makes you want to shut the TV down before you go nuts. There has been little offered in terms of concrete advice other than wash your hands and “hide and watch.” The public needs facts about how these abominable little buggers wreak havoc on us.  And the public does not need to underestimate the threat they pose.

There are many different Corona viruses out there. Four of them cause mild symptoms like a cold. Then there was SARS in 2003 and MERS a few years later. COVID-19 is the seventh identified Corona virus and the deadliest by far. This bad boy evolved as a mutated virus found in bats that somehow got transmitted to humans in Wuhan, China where it was first identified. Because no one had any immunity to this new scourge, it began spreading like wildfire across the entire planet.

Technically known as SARS-Co-V-2, it received the moniker “Corona” because each virus is encapsulated by knobby little spikes (think Shrek) that resemble a crown. It is a microscopic parasite… so small that a hundred million of them would fit on a pin head! Viruses aren’t even truly a living organism. Each one contains its genetic code encapsulated in a protein coated matrix which is able to insert itself into our own body’s healthy cells, and literally “hijack” them. Once inside they use our cells own reproductive capacity to make multiple copies of itself.

It takes a while but those who become infected will soon become home to countless trillions of these micro-monsters in their saliva and mucus. Then when that person sneezes, coughs, or simply even talks they can spew tiny germ contaminated droplets awaiting their chance to reproduce anew.  Have you ever watched slow motion photography of a really robust and unsuppressed sneeze? Tens of thousands of droplets are sprayed into the air carrying the potential to infest everything they touch. The coronavirus then gets its toehold into us through our nose, eyes or mouth. The cycle continues when an unsuspecting infected person leaves samples of the virus on everyone and everything they touch… doors, shopping cart handles, cell phones, pens… you name it. The info we have is that the germ will survive on glass, plastic or metal surfaces for perhaps three days. On cloth, paper and other porous surfaces it can survive for possibly 24 hours. Then someone comes along and touches those contagious particles, then touches their own mucus membranes (mouth, eyes or nose) and the cycle goes on endlessly. Once they invade another nasal passage or throat, then the next victim contracts Covid-19 infection.

Dr. William Shaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease specialist, explains that once the CV inserts itself into a healthy cell, it begins work cranking out copies of itself. They tell our body’s healthy cells, “Don’t do your usual job. Your job is now to help me multiply.” They do just that and our healthy cells eventually die. (Shades of the ALIEN movie on a very microscopic level!) This conversion all takes place between two days and up to two weeks, but on average 5-6 days from the initial contact.  In 4 out of 5 infectious cases, the illness is a relatively mild one which stays in the nose and throat. A healthy immune system will manufacture antibodies and mobilize our own T-Cells to kill the invaders. When this scenario happens, then recovery will take about two weeks.  If the patient has a less than efficient immune system and defenses are down, the lungs become the next target of coronavirus.

The alveoli of the lungs, the little air sacs which transmit oxygen to our bloodstreams, are then attacked. The lining cells start to die off, breathing becomes labored.  As our lung tissues are killed, the breathing passages become clogged up with clumps of dead cells and fluid collects in the airways.  Now we have pneumonia, and if it is strictly the coronavirus, then no antibiotic is effective. (Antibiotics kill only truly living organisms, and remember this critter is a Zombie Apocalypse.)  Thick, immoveable mucus plugs block oxygen transfer.  In the worst case scenario, the patient must have help to breathe. Then they are intubated and put on a mechanical breathing machine called a ventilator. Without the vent the patient could potentially drown in this thick necrotic fluid.

Once the patient reaches the point of requiring a ventilator, odds for survival become dicey. Other organ systems begin to crash when our immune system goes into hyper drive, and misfires in a “cytokine storm” where our body begins to attack and kill even healthy cells and not just the infected ones. This strange over-reaction by our immune system can then cause other organ systems to fail… kidney and liver failure can then occur.  How the patient’s immune system responds is the key to survival. The main risk factor for a more serious disease course is advanced age, with the vast majority of fatalities being in the most senior age group. But this does not mean that younger people are safe or exempt from critical outcomes. Around 40 percent of patients who required hospitalization were under 55. Death rates are also higher for every age group who has the co-morbidities of smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or kidney disease. Transplant patients and others on immune suppressants are especially at risk. For unknown reasons men have a higher mortality rate than women. There are also new studies that show that African Americans are disproportionately affected. The statistics we are receiving now show that the overall death rate for those infected with Covid-19 is between 1 and 3 percent.

For the moment, those of us still trying to function within our communities have no defense strategies other than frequent hand washing, masks, gloves, distancing and isolating ourselves. (Apparently some people feel that toilet paper is an effective deterrent, or possibly they simply have the poop scared out of them!) Any diligently applied soap or detergent to our hands then rinsed with very warm water for 20 seconds kills this varmint-virus better than any high priced remedy.  Of course, alcohol at a level of over 65 percent (think isopropyl or rubbing alcohol, or hand sanitizers) will dissolve the virus’ outer coating and disarm it. A mixture of bleach/water will zap it. Heat and sun are also great ammo. The virus molecules remain very stable in cold environments, and they love moisture and darkness. Therefore, remember that dehumidified, dry, warm and bright environments will destroy our enemy. (Pray for it to warm up and stop raining every day!)

Because this is a new and unknown enemy to our immune systems, we don’t have any natural resistance to it, nor any medicines, or vaccines to treat it with, no experience in dealing with it and no knowledge of how long it will last.  We know that every generation of humans throughout history have faced scourges, catastrophes, epidemics and pandemics, and they all always have had to run their course until we get smart enough to win these battles.

Dear readers, I hope that you all remain “Sheltered in the Arms of God.” I will leave you with this humble advice:

WASH YOUR HANDS AND SAY YOUR PRAYERS,

‘CAUSE JESUS AND GERMS ARE EVERYWHERE!

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