INFECTIOUS DISEASE

What Is COVID-19?

By Sherry Baker @SherryNewsViews
 | 
July 30, 2021
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COVID-19 is a pandemic that keeps changing. Researchers are working on ways to halt the epidemic caused by a new coronavirus. Here's what you should know. 

Headlines around the world continue to spread news about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has sickened people all around the world.  

Within a few months after the novel coronavirus was first known to be causing illness, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned countries to prepare for a pandemic. Many countries that had relaxed attempts to control the spread of the virus are contemplating or beginning to renew their efforts through this summer as the Delta variant spreads.

 

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What is COVID-19?

The infectious agent in the news, first detected in Wuhan City, China, in late 2019, belongs to a large family of coronaviruses. The “corona” label comes from crown-like spikes seen on these pathogens when coronaviruses are under a microscope.

Mostly, coronaviruses infect bats, pigs, and some other small mammals. Coronaviruses can mutate and move from only infecting animals to also infecting humans, what scientists call a “spillover event,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) explains. Then a coronavirus can be transmitted person-to-person.

The current pandemic is caused by a new type of coronavirus in humans, which WHO has named Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Because early reports of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan seemed associated with people who visited a large seafood and live animal market in the city, animal-to-person spread was believed to be the cause.

The CDC reports person-to-person spread is how the disease is transmitted, most likely from respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Understanding the coronavirus

In all, there are hundreds of coronaviruses that infect animals and only seven coronaviruses known to sicken humans.

Most types of coronaviruses cause only mild-to-moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses in people, with symptoms much like the common cold, according to the NIAID. Since 2002, however, three types of coronaviruses have caused severe disease in people: SARS (which was first recognized in late 2002 but disappeared by 2004); MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome), a disease found in camels that can sicken humans; and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

When people hear animals can have coronaviruses, there can be unfounded worries and rumors about pets potentially spreading the disease. Good news: There is no reason to think any animals or pets in the U.S. might be a source of infection with the new coronavirus, according to the CDC.

 

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We can’t emphasize this enough: Progress in halting the new coronavirus

The largest study to date on COVID-19 concluded, while the coronavirus can be fatal, those at highest risk are people who already have pre-existing health problems, especially cardiovascular illness. Men are also more likely to have a severe case of the disease than women. One study of the antivrial drug remdesivir may showed enough promise the Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of the drug.

Chinese researchers analyzed the medical records of 72,314 patient diagnosed with the virus and found most confirmed cases were in adults between the ages of 30 and 69 and most were exposed to the coronavirus in Wuhan.

Over 80 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases were classified as mild, and fewer than 5 percent became critical (meaning the patients developed life-threatening problems, including respiratory failure, multiple organ dysfunction, or respiratory failure). However, half of the patients in critical condition died.

Scientists are drawing on what they learned from other outbreaks of coronavirus illness in humans — especially deadly SARS, which swept across the globe in 2003, primarily through air travel — to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And quarantines and travel restrictions, which were important to halting SARS, have been in effect at times to keep the virus from spreading further.

What’s more, previous research into the SARS and MERS outbreaks is helping scientists to quickly assess the new coronavirus and find ways to prevent and hopefully treat COVID-19, the NIAID points out.

To that end, within two weeks of the discovery of the new coronavirus, NIAID researchers had already figured out how the virus enters cells, and a global effort was launched to contain, prevent, and treat the COVID-19.

According to CDC data, about more than 70 percent of Americans age 5 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. About 65 percent are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. Almost 95 percent of Americans at especially high risk because of their age — U.S. seniors 65 and older — have had at least one shot of the vaccine, and about 80 percent are fully vaccinated.

And the number of vaccinated Americans is rising daily.

You should also be aware that even if you’ve had any of the vaccines, information about whether you need a booster shot is still developing.

If you are vaccinated or planning to get the shot soon, your top concerns about the CDC guidelines for the vaccine and booster jabs are likely to revolve around what you can now do safely.

Vaccine side effects

The CDC has reported common side effects of the vaccine, including pain, redness, swelling, and some flu-like symptoms. There are, however, reports of adverse events, including anaphylaxis, thrombosis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome, Myocarditis, and death. You can keep track of adverse side effects here.

Bottom line: Common sense virus prevention strategies are key

First off, get vaccinated for COVID-19.

If you’ve followed the course of COVID-19 in the U.S. and the fluctuating guidelines from the CDC, reported as the course of the coronavirus pandemic has changed, it’s no surprise that the latest guidelines continue to result in some controversy.

The bottom line is the guidelines are not federal mandates, and states can make their own guidelines.  

With guidelines continuously changing, you will need to check with your state’s board of health to see whether there are required rules for mask wearing, even for those who are vaccinated.

CDC evolving travel guidelines.

It's important to keep up with the latest travel guidelines from the CDC, as they've continuously changed for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

 

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Our Cold and Flu Season section

Updated:  

April 07, 2022

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell