VIRUS WARS! and COVID-19
Molly Gee was sitting in the coffee shop on a warm winter day. Others were gathering late in the afternoon. She didn’t even hear the cough, so unknown to her, she had inhaled a virus that causes the corona virus infection. Her mouth and nose and even her eyes were the portals for the virus. Viruses are much smaller than bacteria: they can’t even be seen by a regular microscope. Like all viruses, they can’t be killed by antibiotics. Amazingly, they are not even really alive. We call them half alive. A virus is composed of either DNA or RNA inside a protein coat. Some are further enclosed by an envelope of fat and protein. They are parasites and they have to get to a living cell to continue to exist and reproduce.
As Molly quietly sat enjoying the day, she was unaware that a war had started within her body. The virus might have been trapped by mucus and expelled by the body, but in her case, it made it past the this first line of defense, and now the virus was ready to invade. The spikes seen around the 2019-nCoV’s cell are the keys to the castle and a protein, ACE2, on human cells, is the lock. The virus’ spike protein attached to her cells, piercing through, and then the virus injected its DNA or RNA (in COVID-19 it is RNA) into the cell. Now inside, it could make a slave of that cell, using the cell’s own machinery to reproduce its genetic material. When each infected cell was filled, the new COVID RNA was released into her body to invade other cells. Some viruses burst the cell and sometimes genetic material is released, leaving the cell alive to become a virus factory. It is not clear which type COVID-19 is but either way, the number of infected cells grew exponentially.
In COVID-19 millions of body cells are infected. Molly’s immune system launched a defense. The innate system detected that something was an invader and phagocytes were sent in to devour foreign cells and release interferon that warns surrounding cells of trouble. Interferon may not work this way in COVID 19. When the phagocytes could not destroy the invading force, it notified the lymph nodes that called in killer T-Cells and B cells. If these cells had ever fought this particular virus before they would have retained the memory. The body knows how to fight off viruses with antibodies previously formed: this is how vaccines work. The problem with this corona virus is that it is novel, and Molly’s cells did have any weapons already prepared to fight it.
In the corona virus infection, Molly’s immune cells poured into the lungs. The corona virus then invaded some of the immune cells causing confusion that sent them into a fighting frenzy. As the immune cells continued to flood into the lungs, they killed as many healthy cells as virus cells: friendly fire. The immune cells sent in way too many cells, killing healthy lung tissue. Molly’s immune system slowly regained control, killed the infected cells, intersected the virus trying to impact other cells and cleaned up the battlefield. In some people, the damage to the lungs makes them very susceptible to pneumonia and the immune system can get overwhelmed leading to the need for life support ventilators, and even death. Molly recovered.
It is much more dangerous than the flu and much is not yet known. Two things we can do to fight the war is to not get sick and to keep others from getting sick. It is a very complicated problem with a couple of simple solutions. The very best thing that we can do is to wash our hands. Remember the fatty envelope around the virus? Soap is a powerful tool that dissolves this fatty layer and makes the virus unable to infect us. It is also slippery and keeps the virus from clinging to our hands.
The other method is to socially distance. This reduces how many people are infected and gives the scientists time to develop medications and a vaccine. It is not fun but the solution is up to us. Molly plans to go back to the coffee shop, sometime.
Thanks to THE MEDICAL TEAM for providing this excellent post. THE MEDICAL TEAM Home Health and Hospice is fighting with a dedicated team to care for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and a team that cares for people’s health who do not have the virus. Private duty aides help people care for themselves maintaining nutrition, hydration, hygiene and company. The Hospice team gives comfort and support to people in the final part of the journey. THE MEDICAL TEAM recognizes the everyday heroes in our senior communities who are working to protect and care for their residents. THE MEDICAL TEAM
1 thought on “Virus Wars”
This was written when we were still saving masks and other PPE for front line workers and first responders. Now as numbers are going back up and we have a greater supply of PPE, it is important to do everything we can to protect ourselves and others. We know that wearing masks that have 2 layers, preferably with a filter, and no exhale valve, is effective to prevent community spread. When around others, in public, always wear a mask.