The Coronavirus has spread like wildfire, infecting almost 9 million people in 6 months. With each infected person infecting two or three other people, on average. An infected person will exhibit respiratory symptoms, including coughing or sneezing, and symptoms similar to the common flu. Because the virus is airborne, an infected person can easily infect another person by just breathing, and even more so by coughing or sneezing. Along with this, the virus can also be contracted when you get into contact with a contaminated person.
It has been found that an infected person can display symptoms after five days, or even up to two weeks. And it is possible to infect others before these symptoms show up. Meaning that you could infect 2-3 people every day before you exhibit symptoms in between 5-14 days. The number of people contaminated is also exponential, meaning that the rate of cases per day, increases.
With the possibility of contracting the virus by an infected person without any signs of the Coronavirus, the rate of the spread of the virus is extremely high. It is not surprising that it has spread rapidly throughout these past 6 months, as the rate is exponential. In addition to this, the social distancing regulations have not been followed so religiously and may have been neglected. The virus was also able to travel on people traveling to other countries, which is how it spread so fast.
Now looking at a smaller scale. The virus is made up of genetic material with an outer shell of protein in the shape of spikes, which is used to attach itself to a cell’s membrane, where it can then begin to infect its host. Vaccines are being created against what scientists and researches find in the structure of the Coronavirus, which is quite unique and dissimilar to other viruses.
A team of bioscientists at the University of Texas, Austin, is focusing on the structure of the virus. The spike proteins are how the virus is able to infect the cells, so the purpose of the vaccine would be to block these spikes from penetrating the cells.
A structural biologist at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, found that to attach itself to human cells, the virus contains an enzyme called furin, which is also found in many human tissues and organs, and more specifically, the lungs. This ability to enter our cells can be very destructive as it allows the virus to attack multiple organs that have the enzyme. A vaccine or drug developed would be able to block the furin from being able to enter cells.
Another factor that could help develop the vaccine against the Coronavirus, is to focus on what part of the cell the virus is able to enter. The same team in Texas has found that the spike proteins attach to a receptor on cells, and attaches more strongly compared to the SARS virus. A vaccine or drug could block the receptor, which blocks the entry point for the virus to cells.
Comparing with other viruses, for instance, the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic and SARS in 2002, both were also spread through respiratory droplets. The SARS pandemic ended due to the virus unable to survive in the human population, and the 1918 influenza, due to higher immunity. The Coronavirus, however, has continued to show that it can survive in our bodies, making it difficult for a vaccine to develop and unpredictable to how the pandemic will end.
Mallapaty, Smriti. “Why Does the Coronavirus Spread so Easily between People?” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 6 Mar. 2020, www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00660-x.
Larson, Jennifer. “How Does the 2019 Coronavirus Spread?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 11 Mar. 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/coronavirus-transmission.
Ries, Julia. “Here's How COVID-19 Compares to Past Outbreaks.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 12 Mar. 2020, www.healthline.com/health-news/how-deadly-is-the-coronavirus-compared-to-past-outbreaks.
Saplakoglu, Yasemin. “Researchers Map Structure of Coronavirus ‘Spike’ Protein.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 21 Feb. 2020, www.scientificamerican.com/article/researchers-map-structure-of-coronavirus-spike-protein/.