Things you should know about coronaviruses and COVID-19
Nowadays, everybody talks about 'the coronavirus'. We can find an enormous amount of information about it, including frightening claims and news about the increasing number of new infections. So, what is that we should all know?
Viruses consist of genetic material embedded into proteins. They do not have their own metabolism, so we do not consider them living organisms. In order to reproduce, they need a host organism, that is, all viruses can be considered parasites. Without a host, viruses lose their ability to cause infection and 'die' within a certain period of time.
Bacteria, however, are real living organisms with life processes. There are useful and harmful bacteria. Bacteria useful for humans include lactic acid bacteria. Certain bacteria are parasites, similarly to viruses. These bacteria, however, do not die without a host. They surround themselves with an envelope in which they can survive unfavourable conditions.
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In December 2019, a patient was registered in Wuhan, China, with symptoms so far unknown to science. Later it turned out that the patient's infection was caused by a coronavirus strain, so the illness was named COVID-19, that is, COronaVIrus Disease 2019.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses with several members. Their name refers to their appearance in electron microscopic images, similar to the solar corona, which is due to the bulbous protein projections found on their surface.
Most coronaviruses infect animals, few of them can infect humans too. They are present in only about 2% of humans and cause only the 5–10% of respiratory illnesses.
The virus causing the epidemic in 2019 and 2020 is officially called SARS-CoV-2, referring to the fact that it is very similar to the coronavirus that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002.
What is the course of the COVID-19 infection like?
At first, the infection is not obvious because of the lack of symptoms. This is called the incubation period. An infected person can infect others during this period.
According to current knowledge, the infection is transmitted by droplets, that is, by sneezing or coughing via air, or by touching objects where droplets or saliva fell. This is why it is recommended that we wear a mask when we have a cough or a cold.
Biology and medicine: information about viruses, infections and the immune system Medicine, pharmacology: ways to strengthen the immune system, producing vaccines. Mathematics, physics: studying networks, mathematical modelling of the spread of diseases and making estimations about the geographical extent and the number of infections.
Should we be scared?
"Better safe than sorry" – as the saying goes.
We should be very careful, because the numbers show that the infection is spreading day by day.
We should not panic, however, as it just makes the situation worse.
Instead of panicking, we should understand and follow the rules regarding the epidemic.
How can we slow down the coronavirus epidemic?
The COVID-19 is highly contagious, 1 infected person will infect 2.2 individuals on average. We must pay special attention to avoid contact with infected people or those who are suspected to be infected.
Infected patients are placed in quarantine, that is, isolated from healthy people. At the early stage of the infection, people may not have any symptoms, it is difficult to detect the presence of the virus. It is possible only using medical tests.
In numerous countries around the world, public institutions, schools and universities were closed so that employees and students have less contact with other people and thereby minimise the chance for a rapid spread of the disease.
However, it would be wrong to think that staying away from school means simply taking a break and having a party. It is important to avoid contact with others as much as possible. People with weakened immune systems should especially avoid social gatherings.
We should wash our hands often and thoroughly. It is important that we have hand sanitiser gel on us and that we avoid touching our face and mouth, as well as greeting each other with handshakes, kisses or hugs.
If we experience symptoms typical of the disease, we must not leave our homes to go to our doctor's surgery or to an emergency unit, as we may infect people waiting there. Instead, we should call our doctor to ask what we have to do.