The blitzkrieg of Coronavirus

by Debarshi Kar Mahapatra

“Corona” in Latin means “halo” or “crown.” Coronavirus (CoV) got its name because of crown-like projections on its surface. This large family of viruses causes severe illness ranging from common cold to more adverse diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERSCoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). CoVs are basically zoonotic, they are transmitted from animals to human beings. On comprehesive investigations, it is observed that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. It is often reported that the abilities of the CoV to mutate actually make it so contagious. Also, it has been perceived that the antibodies produced by the human body against a specific strain of CoV, proves ineffective against the other strains. The chief symptoms include sneezing, fatigue, runny nose, fever, cough, exacerbated asthma and sore throat.

SARS was a contagious disease caused by the SARS-CoV. It typically led to a life-threatening form of pneumonia. SARSCoV is unique. It can infect both the upper and lower respiratory tract and can also cause gastroenteritis. During the epidemic, there were 8,098 confirmed cases of SARS with 774 fatalities. This is equal to a mortality rate of 9.6%. Complications were more likely in older adults, and half of all infected people over the age of 65 years who became ill did not survive. It was eventually brought under control in July 2003. The symptoms of SARS develop over the course of a week and start with a fever. Early on in the condition, people develop flu-like symptoms, such as: dry coughing, chills, diarrhea, breathlessness, and aches.

MERS, caused by the MERS-CoV, was first recognized in 2012. This severe respiratory illness first surfaced in Saudi Arabia and, since then, has spread to other countries. The virus has reached the U.S., and the largest outbreak outside the Arabian Peninsula occurred in South Korea in 2015. MERS is fatal in 30% to 40% of people who contract it. Symptoms include fever, breathlessness, and coughing. The illness spreads through close contact with people who have already been infected. However, all cases of MERS are linked to individuals who have recently returned from travel to the Arabian Peninsula.

A CoV was first isolated in 1937 from an infectious bronchitis virus in birds that has the ability to seriously devastate poultry stocks. Human CoronaViruses (HCoV) were first identified in the 1960s in the noses of patients with the common cold. Two human coronaviruses are responsible for a large proportion of common colds OC43 and 229E. A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. CoVs are types of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract of mammals, including humans. Several known CoVs are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Over the last 70 years, scientists have found that CoVs can infect mice, rats, dogs, cats, turkeys, horses, pigs, and cattle.

They are associated with the common cold, pneumonia, and SARS can also affect the gut. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. These viruses are responsible for between 15 and 30 percent of common colds. Among humans, infection most often occurs during the winter months as well as early spring. It is not uncommon for a person to become ill with a cold that is caused by a CoV and then catch it again about four months later. This is because CoV antibodies do not last for a very long time.

There has not been a great deal of research on how a human coronavirus spreads from one person to the next. However, it is believed that the viruses transmit using secreted fluid from the respiratory system. CoVs 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, and on rare occasions, a CoV may spread through contact with feces.

The standard advice to avert the spread of infection includes covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing,regular hand washing, thoroughly cooking meat products, and completley avoiding the contact with individuals having respiratory illness symptoms like coughing and sneezing. To prevent further transmission of CoV, avoiding close contact with other people, everyone must stay at home and take adequate rest while experiencing these unusual symptoms, use of medically approved masks, covering the mouth and nose with a tissue paper while coughing or sneezing can eventually decline CoV spread, and disposing the used tissue papers properly to maintain hygiene.

Lately, competent authorities have identified a massive CoV outbreak in China that has now reached several other nations. Thousands of people in China have contracted the virus and several health agencies have identified numerous people around the world affected with 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCov). Five 2019-nCoV positive individuals from United States of America (U.S.A.) have been confirmed by the government which on January 31, 2020, transmitted from one person to another. As the disease is active during the phase of this year, individuals (particularly young people) in U.S.A. are further probable to catch this pandemic in the winter season. Most people will become infected with at least one CoV in their life. Concerning 2019- nCov, the World Health Organization (WHO) then declared a public health emergency.

In Wuhan, China, the 2019-nCoV was originated and has currently spread to more than 30 nations across the globe which has imposed threat to a large section of human population. The public health authorities have issued warning to local population to avoid further widespread. A total of 37,599 (including 37,269 in China, Hong Kong and Macau) confirmed cases of nCoV infection including 814 deaths (including one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong) have been reported across the world as of 9 February 2020. Initial investigations suggested link of humans with animals (bat, snake, etc.) and sea foods which suggested zoonotic its origin. However, most recent patient diagnosis showed no such connections with the market and now scientists have come to a conclusion that these viruses spread by human to human contact.

Currently, no vaccine is available to treat 2019-nCov. There is also no specific pharmacological cure, so treatments include self-caring and over-the-counter medication, rest and avoid overexertion, drink enough water, avoid smoking, take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and fever, and use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer. However, scientists have replicated the virus which could allow early detection and treatment initiation.

India now has three 2019- nCoV positive cases. The first CoV tested positive case was hospitalized in Thrissur Medical College, Kerala. The second case is under monitoring in Alappuzha Medical College, Kerala. The third case was reported from Kasargod district, Kerala. All of them are stable at present. Kerala government has imposed high alerts and the Central government has imposed actions against population migration, and National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune is currently diagnosing these cases.

The author is Assistant Professor at Dadasaheb Balpande College of Pharmacy, Nagpur, Maharashtra, India. E-mail: dkmbsp@gmail.com

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