Understanding corona (COVID-19) is half the battle

-By Debojit Acharjee (Software Engineer/Writer)

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Coronaviruses are a group of related viruses that usually cause diseases in mammals and birds but some types (species) of this virus, also causes disease in humans. Coronaviruses can cause respiratory tract infections in humans, that can be mild like any flu infection but some coronaviruses can cause deadly infections, such as SARS, MERS, and COVID-19.

COVID-19 pandemic:                               

SARS-CoV-2 virus is a type of coronavirus that causes respiratory infection and is known as COVID-19. Initial symptoms are flu-like and later causes fever, muscle pain, lethargy symptoms, cough, sore throat, and other nonspecific symptoms. The only symptom common to all patients is a fever above 38 °C (100 °F). The diagnosis is done based on swab test (sample from the throat is collected). SARS-CoV-2 virus can cause transmission between humans during the incubation period also. Which means that when this virus enters someone’s lungs, then it can also infect other people, even without having any symptoms up to 14 days. That’s why in case of COVID-19, it’s very difficult to detect who is infected with the virus during 14 days. Only after 14 days, one gets severe symptoms like fever and shortness of breathing. However, for some people the symptoms can appear between 1-5 days or may delay up to 24 days also. COVID-19 cannot transmit through cooked food or mosquitoes.

Preventive measures for COVID-19:

As there is no treatment or vaccine for COVID-19, only prevention is the only solution. There are various preventive measures that can help prevent the spread of this disease.

  • Wearing a face mask: As coronavirus can spread from person to person, mainly through air – wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, surgical mask won’t filter such smaller particles like coronavirus. That’s why N95, N99 and N100 mask can be used for prevention, because they can filter smaller particles. N95/99/100 means filtration of 95%, 99% and 100% of particles respectively. That’s why wearing N100 mask can only guarantee to prevent COVID-19. Moreover, only NIOSH certified mask can only be trusted. People should be careful while handling the mask, and a mask should not be touched on its front side after use, because harmful bacteria or virus might deposit on it. That’s why a mask should be removed only by holding its ear loops or ties and you should sanitize or wash your hands immediately after touching it. Even if most N95/99/100 mask can be reused – in case of deadly viruses like the coronavirus, it’s better to dispose the mask after one use. That’s why wearing a mask for the prevention of COVID-19 is an expensive method.
  • Hand sanitizers for COVID-19: A hand sanitizer is a liquid solution that contains a mixture of various disinfectant chemical or herbal substances and alcohol. In most hand sanitizers the alcohol is always above 60% and ethanol is the most common alcohol used in most hand sanitizers. The alcohol used in hand sanitizers work as a disinfectant and kills bacteria or viruses instantly. Therefore, using hand sanitizers to sanitize hands can prevent COVID-19. Currency notes and mobile phones may also carry coronavirus. That’s why, you should sanitize your hands soon after using your phone or handing currency notes. SARS-CoV-2 can stay 4 hours on copper and up to 2-3 days on plastic or stainless steel. However, on cardboard, it can stay up to 24 hrs only.
  • Washing hands properly: Washing hands properly with soap also helps to prevent COVID-19. While washing hands, you should apply soap on every part of your hand and keep the soap on your hands for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse your hands with running water, but as you would touch the tap, to open it before washing your hands, you need to wash the tap also with soap, because if any bacteria or virus stays on the tap, then it could transfer back to your hands, while closing the tap after washing the hands. That’s why the best method of washing hands is, Hand-Tap-Hand. In this method, first open the tap and wash your hands with water. Then apply soap on your hands and then apply soap on the tap also. Next, rinse your hands under the running water and rinse the tap also by pouring water with your hands. Then again, apply soap on your hand and rinse your hands. Finally close the tap and dry your hands with a dry cloth or towel.
  • Avoiding non-veg food: We should also avoid non-veg food and some dairy products because this virus can survive on any raw food. The reason why you should avoid such food is because, when you will handle such raw food before cooking, there are chances that you might get the infection if the virus comes through such raw food. As this virus requires animal tissue to survive, the chances of getting this disease from non-veg food or dairy products is possible. However, there may not be a possibility of getting the infection from consuming packaged pasteurized milk but curd may carry the infection.
  • Keeping distance with people: WHO says that to prevent COVID-19, one should keep 1-2 meter distance with people but can it really prevent the aerosol droplets from entering our body? Aerosol droplets are usually droplets of saliva or mucus, dispersed from somebody’s mouth while talking or coughing. According to the scientist of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA), when somebody sneezes, such droplets can travel up to 8 meters. Coronavirus can stay on air for up to 3 hours and it also depends on the size of the droplets. Smaller droplets can float in air easily and can travel longer distances. Weather conditions like temperature and humidity also matters. With high temperature and dry weather, the droplets don’t stay longer in air. That’s why maintaining distance can’t guarantee the prevention of COVID-19 as compared to wearing N95 mask. 
  • Using fans and ventilation: Using celling fans at high speed can give some sort of protection to prevent COVID-19. That’s why most flu infections happen during the winter season, because we don’t use fans during the winter. If you sit below a ceiling fan or aside a table fan, running at high speed, then the continuous airflow from the fan could prevent coronavirus from entering your nose, because the air coming out of a fan would takeaway the virus along with the airflow. Ventilation of the room can also prevent the virus, but only if the room get a negative pressure. Which means that after opening the windows, the air should be going out of the windows but not coming inside the room. If the air is only coming inside the room instead of going out, then there is a chance of getting coronavirus from outside also. The best option is to keep an exhaust fan in the room to create a continuous negative pressure. That’s why opening windows may not always prevent COVID-19 and might bring the virus inside your room.
  • Germicidal lamp for disinfection: A germicidal lamp is a kind of lamp that emits ultra violet light and such a lamp can kill bacteria or viruses. 210 UV tubes can be used to sterilize rooms and vehicles to prevent COVID-19. The UV light can kill coronavirus within 5 mins, and is an effective way to prevent COVID-19. However, one should not be exposed to the UV light because it can cause skin irritation and eye problems. In China, such UV lamps were used to disinfect public transport buses and hospitals during COVID-19 outbreak. Such UV lamps can be used to sanitize currency notes also but they should also be heated for assurance.
  • Taking vitamin C: Some say that vitamin C can boost immune system but does it help prevent COVID-19? Linus Pauling, an American scientist and a Nobel Prize winner – wrote a book called “Vitamin C and the Common Cold” in 1970. He explained in his book that taking high amounts of vitamin C can reduce the duration of common cold. His theory was not scientifically proven and in reality taking vitamin C won’t make much difference in curing common cold. However, those who take sufficient vitamin C regularly, have shorter duration of common cold. However, for adults, the duration gets shorter by only 8% and for children it’s 18%. Vitamin C can only increase the production of white blood cells like leucocytes in the body, but neither it can kill any viruses nor prevents any viral infection. The recommended daily intake of vitamin C is 75mg (female) – 90mg (male) for adults and for children above 14yrs is 65 mg (female) – 75 (male). The highest amount of vitamin C is present in fruits like Indian gooseberry (Amla) and Guava. Amla contains 445 mg/100g of vitamin C and Guava contains 228 mg/100g. Therefore, taking Amla and Guava on regular basis could keep the immune system active but cannot assure to prevent COVID-19.
  • Self-quarantine: Self quarantine means to isolate yourself from others but being under observation or treatment. Self-quarantine can be done at home or at an isolation center. However, staying at home with coronavirus infection has a risk of spreading the infection because the virus is highly contagious and it can not only spread through air but also through sewage system. If somebody is infected with coronavirus and stays in a building where other people are also staying, then there could be a chance of the virus of spreading through the bathroom pipes to others. That’s why in China, many apartments were evacuated and cleaned after finding people infected with COVID-19.
  • Country lockdown: President Donald Trump said, “Border security is also health security” and it means that if any infected person enters a country then there is a chance of spreading the infection within the people of that country. That’s why, during any pandemic situation, all the routes to a country should be closed for visitors and borders should be closed for everyone. In India, the COVID-19 outbreak happened because visitors were still entering the country during the pandemic. North Korea is a country that locked itself since the start of the disease in China. In North Korea, visitors are not allowed to enter the country easily, and because of its strict visit’s restrictions, the country is on the safer side now.

Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) infection and risk:

The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is carried by aerosol droplets in the air, released from any infected person and enters the human body through the respiratory system (nose to lungs). After entering the lungs, this virus tries to invade the tissue cells of the lungs. This virus can only enter the lungs cell with the help of a protein called Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2). The ACE2 protein has a receptor and the coronavirus has also spike protein (S-protein) on its body. This virus attaches itself to the ACE2 protein by docking its S-protein onto the ACE2 receptor. Another protein called serine protease (TMPRSS2) helps the coronavirus to attach itself to the ACE2 protein and activates the docking process. After attaching itself to ACE2 protein, it transfers it’s mRNA to the host cell (lungs cells). The mRNA (messenger Ribonucleic acid) is a molecule that carries the genetic information and coronavirus transfers the mRNA to hack the lung cells for replication. After transferring the mRNA into the host cell of the lungs, the virus starts multiplying itself and starts the infection.

ACE2 protein is a part of the Renin Angiotensin System (RAS) and RAS regulates Blood Pressure (BP). Renin is a protein which is produced by the kidneys, and increase in Renin also increases the angiotensin hormone. Increase in angiotensin hormone, can also increase the BP. It also makes the ACE receptor to easily bind with the coronavirus and that’s why people with high BP can become serious from COVID-19. That’s why it’s hypothesized that taking BP lowering medicines could reduce the severity of COVID-19. Apart from that, people with asthma and heart disease are also at higher risk. Also, people who smoke, can have high levels of ACE2 protein in their lungs, and higher the levels of ACE2 in the lungs, more there is a chance of getting COVID-19 infection. That’s why in China, many people died from COVID-19 because most were smokers.

However, using TMPRSS2 inhibitors can prevent the virus from binding to the ACE receptor and can be a promising treatment for COVID-19. Camostat is one such TMPRSS2 inhibitor that hold some promise to reduce the infection in one study. Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine – used to treat malaria have also antiviral properties, and can reduce viral infections like COVID-19 by increasing the endosomal pH. Another drug called remdesivir is also effective in curing COVID-19, and on 18 March 2020, the first Italian COVID-19 patient was successfully cured with remdesivir. It’s also possible that if blood is donated to someone infected with COVID-19 by a healthy blood donor who survived from COVID-19, then that person might recover from the disease, because the blood from the donor might contain the antigens that could kill the virus. However, it will only work if the recovered donor’s blood contains the antigens to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This is also known as passive antibody therapy and for a disease like COVID-19, it might help. Antivirals like Lopinavir/ritonavir (LPV/r), used to treat HIV treatment are not so effective for COVID-19. Favipiravir – an antiviral drug, developed by Toyama Chemical (Japan) is also very effective in the treatment of COVID-19 and it’s approved in Japan. On 17 March 2020, Chinese officials found Favipiravir to be effective in treating COVID-19 in Wuhan and Shenzhen.

A COVID-19 vaccine is still under development and as of now, there is no vaccine available. In late February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it did not expect a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, in less than 18 months. On 17 March 2020, American pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that they’re partnering with German company BioNTech, to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Supercomputers and simulation software for COVID-19:

In order to develop a better vaccine, genome sequencing and testing of various molecules are required. This takes a lot of hard work and time, but using supercomputers and simulation software can help develop a vaccine or drug for a disease in less time. Summit – the fastest supercomputer in the world, developed by IBM (USA) has been used to simulate more than 8,000 molecules that can stop the coronavirus infection. The researchers found 77 molecules that can help control the coronavirus infection and are planning to test the molecules. So, with the help of supercomputers, it has become easy to find medical solutions for any disease and hopefully it will also help to find a cure for COVID-19 soon.

SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus and more we know about it, better we will able to prevent it. Even if this virus is powerful and dangerous, we can make it eradicate from this world by taking the necessary preventive measures.