What are the Multiple Types of Coronavirus?

· 9 min read

Looking for more information about coronaviruses and COVID-19?

The team at 24 Hour Home Care believes good, reliable information is a critical component of caring for ourselves and others. During this current health crisis, arm yourself with the facts about coronavirus and COVID-19.

What Is a Virus?

A virus is a specific class of infectious agent. Viruses get their own class in the taxonomy school; they are not plant, animal, or bacteria, but instead belong in their own distinct kingdom. Viruses are essentially parasites; they cannot replicate without the assistance of their host. They are basically just a shell filled with a bit of genetic material and some proteins. Once a virus enters a host, it really begins to “live”, replicating itself with reckless abandon. A virus actually hijacks the host cell’s machinery and instructs it to replicate the virus over and over again, which will eventually kill the host cell, release the newly created viruses (called virion) into the body, and start the process again on new cells. Virus replication proceeds at exponential rates, eventually reaching a point where some of the virus is discharged and spreads to a new host.

The most important distinction between viruses and bacteria is that bacteria are alive on their own and do not require a host to sustain life, while viruses cannot survive long without a host. This distinction is critical to understanding the different ways bacterial and viral infections can be treated. Antibiotics are medications that attack and kill the growth mechanisms in bacteria; when replication stops, the bacteria die off and the infection goes away. Viruses don’t have their own growth mechanisms, they use their host’s, so an antibiotic has nothing to attack in a virus. Luckily, the host’s immune system is built with the ability to fight off most viruses given enough time. Antibodies learn to recognize the virus and stop it from causing disease. Vaccines are given to stimulate the body to produce antibodies against specific, especially virulent viruses to make sure the body recognizes the virus immediately and can stop it in its tracks before it does lasting, possibly fatal, damage.

Viruses are the most abundant biological entities in the world, outnumbering all others put together, and there are viruses that can infect all types of cellular life. Most viruses can be classified by the type of host they can infect. Some viruses are species specific; smallpox, for example, is a virus that only infects humans. Other viruses, such as rabies, can infect a broad range of mammal species. A select group of viruses, including the corona family, are zoonotic, meaning that they can evolve and jump from one species to another.

Let’s take a closer look at the coronavirus family.

What Is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is a family of viruses that share similar characteristics. They get their name from the crown-like projections that appear on its surface. The coronavirus family is large and has members that affect animals and humans. Currently, seven coronaviruses are known to infect people and the remaining identified coronaviruses are only seen in animals. Each of the seven human coronaviruses originated in animals and then evolved the ability to infect humans. Four of the seven are seen regularly and are, along with rhinoviruses, the source of the common cold. You’ve likely never heard of coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, but your immune system knows them well.

The remaining three human coronaviruses are more notorious; MERS, SARS CoV, and SARS CoV -2, otherwise known as COVID-19. All three are infectious respiratory diseases that began as animal viruses and evolved to infect humans.

  • MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and is associated with dromedary camels. The most significant outbreak MERS was in Saudi Arabia in 2014. To date, 2,494 people have been diagnosed with MERS and the death rate stands near 35%.
  • SARS CoV (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome). SARS CoV was first identified in Asia in February 2003. Over the next few months, SARS quickly spread to over two dozen before it was contained. A total of 8,098 individual became sick and 774 died.
  • SARS CoV-2 (COVID-19). In December 2019, SARS CoV-2—COVID-19—was first identified in humans in Wuhan, China. You might occasionally see COVID-19 called a “novel” coronavirus; this simply means that this virus strain is new and has never been seen before in humans. As of this writing in March 2020, COVID-2 is still spreading like wildfire across the globe and its full impact is not known.

COVID-19 is more contagious, more easily spread, and less lethal than its MERS and SARS cousins. This explains why the outbreak of COVID-19 has quickly became a pandemic while previous outbreaks of MERS and SARS were easily contained. Infected individuals are able to spread the virus before they even know they are sick.

What Does COVID-19 Do?

The COVID-19 virus enters the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth and heads for the lungs, the spleen, and the intestines, where it attaches itself to the host’s cells and gives its toxic instructions: “copy and reassemble.” In a fairly short period of time, patients with COVID-19 have millions of cells infected with COVID-19. While this is happening, the body’s immune system kicks in and sends immune cells and antibodies to the infected area. Our immune systems are amazing at neutralizing and destroying threats, but, like in any war, the battlefield can get messy and friendly fire becomes a real issue. The lungs, spleen, and intestines become fight arenas filled with healthy cells, infected cells, antibodies, healthy immune cells, and immune cells that become infected by COVID-19 (yes, COVID-19 can glom onto immune cells and use them to reproduce as well). During the heat of the battle, healthy  tissue can be damaged, sometimes permanently. This damage leaves the organs exposed and unprotected, allowing bacteria to get in and cause additional infections. In most cases, the immune system is able to take control of the battlefield, destroy the enemy, and clean up the mess left behind. But, in roughly 5% of cases, the virus and the additional infections prove to be too much for the immune system to handle.

How Do I Protect Myself?

Because COVID-19 is a virus, there is no treatment and a vaccine has not yet been developed. Secondary infections can be treated with antibiotics; the antibiotic may help with the bacterial infection but will have no impact on the COVID-19 virus. Individuals over 65, pregnant women, patients with existing heart and lung conditions, and individuals with already compromised immune systems struggle to fight off the effects of COVID-19 and are at high-risk for secondary infections. The only way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to keep yourself away from COVID-19.

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
  • Keep 6 feet of distance between you and other people.
  • Stay home.

24 Hour Home Care stands ready to help you and your loved ones get the care they need. We’re staying educated on COVID-19, following the most stringent health and hygiene protocols, and continuing to provide stellar care to all our home bound patients. We’re available to answer any of your questions. Call today.

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