PETALING JAYA: By now, Covid-19 has become something everybody is aware of and rightfully fears.
Having been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, Covid-19 is a highly contagious disease that has the potential to kill those with weakened immune systems.
As countries race to rein in the virus’ spread, scientists are working round the clock to find a vaccine and solutions to deal with the pandemic.
But what is Covid-19 really? And why is it deadly? Just what does it do to your body that it could potentially kill you? Firstly, to understand Covid-19, you must understand what a virus is.
A virus, unlike bacteria, consists of a hull surrounding a group of genetic material and proteins. The only way a virus reproduces is by hijacking a healthy cell.
How long the coronavirus can survive on a surface depends on the type of surface.
According to a study published by The New England Journal of Medicine, coronavirus was found to survive for up to four hours on copper surfaces, 24 hours on cardboard, and on plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours.
Coronavirus spreads primarily through droplet infection. This happens when an infected person coughs or when you touch them and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
From there, the virus travels deeper into your body.
It will head for your intestines or your spleen, but it’s the lungs where the virus wreaks the most havoc. Rather alarmingly, it takes just a few to cause massive damage to your systems.
Inside your lungs are lines and lines of epithelial cells that cover your organs, ready to be preyed on by the virus.
Upon reaching its target, the coronavirus will inject its genetic material into the epithelial cell. This genetic material orders the cell to copy the virus and produce more of it.
It does so and produces as many as it can before dying and releasing the new coronaviruses to attack other cells.
This chain reaction causes the coronavirus to continuously multiply inside your body. In ten days, millions of your cells would be compromised, with billions of viruses running amok inside your lungs.
The thing is though, it’s not the virus that causes the most severe damage, but rather your own body’s defence mechanism.
It may seem poetic, but in its attempt to save you, your own immune system may end up destroying you.
Upon discovering the infection, your immune system kicks into action and floods into the lungs.
However, the coronavirus will infect some of the immune cells and this will cause confusion among them.
These infected immune cells are incapable of controlling themselves and end up causing more damage than they are supposed to.
Neutrophils that are good at killing intruders end up engaging in friendly fire, killing healthy cells in your lungs alongside infected cells.
Killer T-cells, which on ordinary occasions order infected cells to self-destruct, send the same order to healthy cells.
Healthy lung cells are killed alongside their infected counterparts, to the point that the damage done is irreversible and will last a lifetime.
For most people however, the situation is reined in and the compromised cells are exterminated, the virus purged and the lungs cleared of infection, starting the road to recovery.
Most people infected with Covid-19 will make it out with mild symptoms, but not everyone is lucky.
The loss of a body’s epithelial cells will compromise the safety of the lungs as it no longer has a protective lining. The lungs will thus be exposed to bacterial infection more than ever.
This tends to result in the patient catching pneumonia which makes breathing difficult. Hence why hospitals are desperately requesting for ventilators to help keep patients alive.
Due to the battle against the coronavirus, the immune system is exhausted and lacks the means to combat a bacterial infection.
When bacteria start taking hold of the body, it is near impossible for your immune system to put up a proper defence. Once bacteria enters your bloodstream and starts spreading everywhere, the odds are not in your favour.
Some people dismiss Covid-19 as another form of flu, but it is actually more dangerous due to how contagious it is.
If Covid-19 spreads too fast within a population, there will be more patients than any healthcare system can handle.
Resources will get thinly spread and not everyone will be treated in time.
Even if you are young and unlikely to succumb to Covid-19, you may still be a carrier and infect people who are more vulnerable to it.
So, for now, all you can do is prioritise hygiene and practise social distancing diligently.
It may not be fun to stay cooped up at home, but it’s not just your safety at stake, but the safety of everyone else as well. Be responsible and do the right thing.