I am a ubiquitous minuscule organism but never underestimate my potential. I am proficient in wreaking havoc. At the same time, the family I come from performs many essential functions for human beings. For instance, some of us protect our host cells from other infections. Yet some of us participate in the process of evolution by transferring genes among different species. In the biomedical research field, scientists use many of us to insert new genes into cells. I am Cornie, the Virus – “The Corona Virus.”
I belong to a huge clan (Coronaviridae) that causes infections in mammals (livestock, pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, and cats). They could include humans and birds, and we cause infections starting from the common cold to severe diseases like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) & Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). My family name is derived from the Latin word “Corona” which denotes “crown” or “halo” because of the characteristic appearance of my infectious form – virions (independent virus particles).
We, little invaders, are made up of single-stranded RNA (genetic material), which is, in turn, covered by a greasy membrane studded with small spike-like proteins. When we penetrate a body, these proteins are of great help to latch on to the vulnerable host cells. We inject our genetic material into the host nucleus (control system of a cell). Then we invade into the replication machinery to give more of our little ones.
Since we cannot produce proteins, we are dependent on a host cell for reproduction. And as I shared earlier, once we infect a cell, we continue to produce more viral protein and genetic material instead of the natural genetic material. Consequently, we get the name ‘parasite.’ Ouch! That hurts bad.
Let me share my story
It all began with my discovery in the 1960s from the nasal cavities of human patients with the common cold. My notorious siblings, including SARS-CoV, HCoV NL63, HKU1, MERS CoV & SARS CoV-2, have also been identified since then -most of them involved in serious respiratory tract infections (The Despicables!).
As my name (Cornie) suggests, I could probably be the most charismatic and the most fantastic thing around, and a smile could tactically lure people to me. I get transmitted from one human to another through close contacts via air droplets from coughing or sneezing and touching surfaces contaminated by me. Once I gain entry to a body, I spread slowly and from then, their fate is sealed.
As a validation of my entry, I, the great corona virus, trigger a plethora of mild symptoms like fever, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties. Yet again, I am an exceptionally vehement seeker of attention. Hence, if people refuse to give me my fair share of attention, I could cause more severe forms of infection like pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and kidney failure. Eventually, they can find their way to the grave.
Sometimes, I find humans with heart and lung diseases or got a weak immune system. I find it even easier to attack and progress to more severe lower-respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
These days one of my very close relatives, COVID-19 (explicitly speaking, cousin of SARS virus), has been the talk of the town. His outbreak was first identified from Wuhan (the capital city of China’s Hubei province) where people died of no-cause pneumonia. Some estimates say more than 43,000 people have been infected by this fellow. Initially, people infected with my dearest COVID-19 had links to the animal and seafood market, which suggested that animals transmit him to humans. However, the very recent diagnosis of people who had no connections with or exposure to the market was found to be infected, suggested that humans can pass the chap to each other.
As of now, apart from China, 24 different countries have reported cases of infection. The rogue has an incubation period (the period between the exposure to us and the onset of symptoms) of 2 -14 days during which he can spread. Our kith and kin that infect humans cannot be cultivated under laboratory conditions, which makes it difficult to evaluate our impact on public health & national economies. To date, the new chap has been declared unstoppable since there are neither vaccines nor specific treatments for the disease being spread. Untiring efforts, including quarantines and travel restrictions, are going on throughout the world to contain infection. Further, several organizations around the globe are trying to develop vaccines to bring him down. It is believed that his mutating ability is makes him escape all these plots.
Very recently, humans dressed in white are poking and staring at us through some cylindrical devices and talking in excited tones or somewhat worried tones. I guess there is some serious trouble, but eventually, we are just living our lives just like others. Maybe they are trying to look for ways to wipe the great corona virus out just like they did to my leprosy friends. Cruel and stone-hearted beings! But, we are the never-say-die type, and we would continue to emerge, evolve, mutate, and continue to infect multiple species (as we have a broad host range) and cell types.
And for starters here’s a huge surprise
“It was around that time that a Chinese scientist named Li Chen moved to the United States while carrying a floppy disk of data from China’s most important and dangerous new biological weapon of the past decade. They call the stuff “Wuhan-400” because it was developed at the RDNA labs outside the city of Wuhan, and it was the viable four-hundredth strain of human-made microorganisms created at that research center.”
“In around 2020, a severe pneumonia-like illness will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and the bronchial tubes and resisting all known treatments.”
These extracts above are taken from a thriller novel – The Eyes of Darkness, written by an American author, Dean Koontz, in 1981 in which there is a mention of a virus named Wuhan-400. In the novel, the virus was created as a naive biological weapon of destruction in a Chinese military laboratory.
The novel unfolds the story of a grieving mother, Christina Evans, who is out to discover whether her son, Danny has died on a camping trip or is still alive (she receives suspicious messages stating his existence). Eventually, she locates him in a military facility where he is held after being injected with human-made microorganisms created at the research center in Wuhan.
So, my brother was predicted 40 years ago in a thriller novel? How cool is that! Anyway, we are not done with you guys yet. There is more to it.
There is yet another strange coincidence for humans to ponder. Established in 1956, the Wuhan Institute of Virology (the institute which houses the first in-built Biosafety level 4 in mainland China) is just 32 km from the epicenter of the most recent outbreak. According to the Nature journal, the construction was approved in 2003 during the last deadliest SARS virus outbreak in China and was completed just five years ago. Thanks to some research gone wrong by the fellows at the lab, we wiggled our way out and pounced onto human beings through the seafood market products. And then the rest was history. Would you believe that?
Today, corona virus is on the verge of being perceived as the deadliest. You can keep researching on us, looking for ways to stop us, and still keep your hopes high on containing us. But eventually also be prepared to pack your bags and leave. We are not leaving till we are done!
Featured Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons