Coronavirus 101: What you need to know

Our understanding of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is evolving daily—but we do know some important basics.

Monday, March 30, 2020,
By Diana Marques, Amy McKeever, Kelsey Nowakowski
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited ...
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Photograph by Illustration by Alissa Eckert, MS; Dan Higgins, MAMS/CDC
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On surfaces, it lives longer.

You can protect yourself from catching the virus by staying six feet away from others and washing your hands with soap and water for more than 20 seconds. Disinfectants that are at least 60 percent alcohol by volume can also kill the virus on plastic and stainless steel surfaces.

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Coronaviruses get their name from their spiky structure.

Like other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is spherical with spike proteins that look a bit like a corona, or crown.

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Those spikes help the virus latch onto cells where it can invade.

Once a virus enters the human body through the eyes, mouth, or nose, it looks for cells with its favorite doorways—proteins called receptors. If the virus finds a compatible receptor, it can invade and start replicating itself. For SARS-CoV-2, that receptor is found in lung cells and the gut.

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Age seems to factor into the severity of the disease.

Currently, children with COVID-19 may be less likely to require intensive care and also have lower fatality rates than adults. The difference in severity is not yet fully understood.

There isn’t a single diagnostic symptom, but some are more common.

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People with chronic conditions have a higher mortality rate.

COVID-19 poses a particularly serious threat to people with underlying conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic lung disease, high blood pressure, and cancer.

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Testing is done to diagnose the presence of the virus.

Swab samples taken from the nose or mouth are tested for the virus’s genetic material. Researchers are also developing protocols for tests using blood samples.

It could take at least one year before a vaccine is ready for public use.

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To develop immunity, vaccines may contain killed or weakened virus, viral proteins, or viral genetic material. The best strategy to use against SARS-CoV-2 is yet to be determined.

Source: HMS COVID-19 Student Response Team, Education Committee
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