Viruses have been a fascinating biodynamic system for researchers and students of biology alike because they represent the wondrous “Twilight Zone of life”.
They do not even meet the fundamental definition of a living organism, which conventionally required an organism to contain both DNA(Deoxyribonucleic Acid) or RNA(Ribonucleic Acid).
Significant to note, every virus contains either only DNA or only RNA. Yet, due to their uncanny ability to mutate and metamorphose themselves rapidly and effectively, they are capably thwarting the effect of newer drugs and all other strategies to demolish them.
It is this ability that makes them deadly and invincible. In the recent years, we, as the human race, have had the unfortunate opportunity to witness and even be in the actual throes of pandemics of all-encompassing disease which have caused global strife and which have been due to viruses and propagated by them.
As we go to print with this article, the world is viewing China, the Coronavirus and the impending (or is it already here?) debacle which can cause tremendous suffering, destruction of human life and unaccountable misery in its wake. Hence, this is the opportune moment to understand the intricacies of this deadly “Bioparticle”, the features of the disease it causes and the preventive measures we can undertake to preserve and nurture our good health and wellness as a society.
A family of viruses, known as Coronaviridae contain this group of Viruses Coronaviruses (CoV), so named because of the characteristic spikes, which form a halo around their viral envelope and which are typically visible under the microscope. (CoV)is a significant family of viruses that causes protracted disease conditions which include the common cold and more deadly diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
Coronaviruses are transmitted between animals and people and hence they are known as zoonotic. Research findings have shown that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV found its way from dromedary camels to human subjects.
Characteristically, zoonotic viruses are found in animals, namely livestock, farm animals, household pets and wildlife such as bats. On their transmission to humans, they are causative agents for fever, respiratory illness and inflammation in the lungs. In subjects whose the immune profile is deficient and impaired, such as the geriatric subjects or subjects who are inflicted with HIV-AIDS, they can cause severe respiratory illness.
Mortality is a very final concept, moreover, the disease condition is communicable, and hence, societal healthcare implications are both tangible and significant. The virus spreads quickly and has a great potential of triggering off an epidemic. It is responsible for communicable diseases hence, the impact of this virus has sociocultural, trans-geographic and public health dimensions which are of no mean proportion.
Some historical aspects are important to note for insightful knowledge about this virus. In 1937, a coronavirus was first isolated as an infectious bronchitis virus in birds and it was found to cause serious disease and mortality in poultry. In the last seventy years, research has found that coronaviruses can infect mice, rats, dogs, cats, turkeys, horses, pigs, and cattle and contribute to around 25% of Common Colds. OC43 and 229E is the official nomenclature of two human coronaviruses responsible for most of the common colds.
The primary obstacle and deterrent in early detection and treatment of diseases caused by the coronaviruses are their very “commonplace” and utterly trite cold- or flu-like mild symptom.
These manifest themselves two to four days after coronavirus infection. The broad spectrum symptoms include a runny nose, cough, sore throat, sneezing bouts, abject fatigue and aggravated asthma. The drawback in the restoration of good health is the fact that the patient ignores the initial symptoms as inane and often resorts to self-medication. This is ineffective and also serves to act as a deterrent to the management of the propagation of the virus.
Seasonally, this virus is more likely to infect in the winter months as well as early spring. A relapse of the disease is quite likely if the immune profile is subnormal in the period after the first episode of the disease. There is no cure for the disease and treatment involves some over-the-counter (OTC) medication to manage secondary symptoms and some lifestyle and dietary interventions which go a long way in the alleviation of pain and malaise.
Proper hydration through consumption of adequate amounts of water and fluids, management of IAQ (indoor air quality) by high standards of hygiene and use of vaporizers, administration of common medications like ibuprofen to manage the fever and avoidance of smoking and crowded areas are some of the suggested practices. Additionally, a balanced diet consisting of easy to digest light components is advised. Diagnosis includes the use of clinical samples of the patient like mucus from the nose, or blood samples.
Coronavirus: Recent events and their significance
The present-day concern about the Coronavirus centres around a certain occurrence which has a direct effect on the global health and wellness scenario. A cluster of cases of pneumonia of some unknown cause was detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China and the WHO was officially informed of the same on 31st December 2019.
The Chinese public health officials have reported that they remain focused on immediate efforts towards contact tracing, conducting environmental assessments at the wholesale markets, and conductance of scientific studies to identify the pathogen causing the outbreak. They reported that they recognized the potential danger of this unfortunate occurrence and have harnessed all effort and expertise in its containment.
WHO has started closely observing and modulating the impending calamity and is in close communication with Chinese health officials. In keeping with standard protocol for any public health episode, an incident management system has been actualised across the three levels of WHO (country office, regional office and headquarters) and the organization is prepared to mount a broader response if needed. Various countries have offered their medical expertise to help in tiding over this outbreak.
China has made available as a global access document, the genetic sequence of a new coronavirus believed to be responsible for a cluster of unusual pneumonia cases in Wuhan. Phylogenetic analysis shows the coronavirus to be closely related to SARS CoV, the virus responsible for the SARS pandemic which began in China in 2003. This will provide great inroads into the de novo research endeavours which will help in understanding this virus better.
Initial studies show that virus is similar in its biochemical profile to other SARS-related coronaviruses which appear to be endemic to that demographic and geographic area. A very pertinent analogy has been drawn to the correlation of season and the outbreak of the disease, comparing this to other episodes of a similar nature.
Premier research facilitators, EcoHealth Alliance research states that their primary goal is of reducing risk for the spill-over of Coronavirus. The virus responsible for the current outbreak in Wuhan has the ability to spread human-to-human and incidents of mortality in the region are being correlated to the causative Coronavirus. Nodal reports are being made available to the global scientific fraternity in order to facilitate research and sound scientific advice.
Research into the coronavirus genome was spearheaded by. Yong-Zhen Zhang at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center& School of Public Health, in collaboration with several global contributors.
Beyond the intricacies of scientific detail, there is a grave concern in the minds of the common citizen about how to prevent this calamity and the details of some very important lifestyle interventions which could help to preserve Wellness. Interestingly, not much research is available on the spread of the Coronavirus from one individual to another.
However, secreted fluid from the respiratory system has been noted as a prime method of spread of disease. Coronaviruses can spread in the following ways:
- Coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth can disperse droplets into the air, spreading the virus.
- Touching or shaking hands with a person that has the virus can pass the virus from one person to another.
- Making contact with a surface or object that has the virus and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.
- On rare occasions, a coronavirus may spread through contact with faeces.
- Common compromise in personal hygiene practices like washing of hands, sharing of utensils, handkerchiefs and hand towels also need to be avoided.
In temperate countries, individuals are more likely to contract the disease in the winter or fall. The disease is still active during the rest of the year. Youth are more prone to the disease, and humans may contract more than one infection over the course of a lifetime. Most subjects will become infected with at least one coronavirus in their life.
The causative agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) were extremely pathogenic coronaviruses and were found to be easily transmitted from human to human. It is said that the mutating abilities of the coronavirus are what make it so contagious.
To prevent transmission, it is advisable to stay at home and rest while experiencing symptoms and avoid close contact with other people. Uncompromising hygienic life-practices, a balanced diet and abject abstinence from addictive habits are some very emphatic ways of “dethroning” this deadly bioparticle.
The author acknowledges the use of authentic medical literature to structure this article
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