What Does Coronavirus Look Like? How To Kill COVID-19?

Fact Check on Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV/COVID-19)

Hong Kong airport after coronavirus outbreak

With the Coronavirus outbreak spreading fast, the scientific community is working hard to find out how long the virus might survive outside the human body so they can plan better to control the epidemic.

Picture Courtesy: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
Picture Courtesy: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
Picture Courtesy: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries

Let us have a look at what is known about the virus and what makes it vulnerable.

What does the virus look like?

A normal virus is merely a strand of RNA or DNA surrounded by a layer called Capsid.

The Cornonavirus (2019-nCoV) wears another layer of clothing called the “Envelope”. The envelope contains molecules necessary for the virus to enter their host cells.

Picture Courtesy: https://www.who.int/
Photo Courtesy: https://www.newscientist.com/term/coronavirus/

This is how the virus looks like on an electron micrograph. It is spherical in shape with a diameter of 120-160 nm with 20 nm club shaped projections on the envelop.

For perspective, the diameter of an alveolus (cells in our lungs that help us breath) is 200-500 micron.

How long can the virus live?

Viruses can last for a wide range of time depending on strain and the environmental conditions. Studies conducted in hospital premises have shown that most viruses can persist on inanimate surfaces for weeks or even months. For example, rhinovirus, the common cold causing virus can die away from the surfaces in just couple of hours, where, other hardy viruses like vacciniavirus which can last upto 3-5 years. The coronavirus behind the 2003 SARS outbreak could remain infectious for as long as 6 days on dry surfaces.

Coronavirus 2019-nCoV has the ability to last upto 4 days on surfaces at room temperature.

How many viruses should attack you to make you sick?

Well, that depends on strain of the virus and also on the immunity firewall you carry. Some people need to be exposed to a high number of particles to show symptoms, where as, for many others very few virus particles can cause enough infection to show symptoms.

Although there is no definitive data on this with regards to Coronavirus, according to a microbiologist at Columbia University in New York, a person would need to encounter thousands or tens of thousands of particles of the new coronavirus to be infected.

Symptoms of patients affected with Coronavirus 2019-nCoV

A study published in JAMA Network on February 7, 2020 outlines the following common symptoms they saw in 138 patients hospitalised for Coronavirus infection, more specifically 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV)–infected pneumonia (NCIP) in Wuhan, China.

The most common symptoms researchers observed at the onset of illness were:

  • Fever (98.6% of the patients)
  • Fatigue (69.6% of the patients)
  • Dry cough (59.4% of the patients)
  • Muscle pain/Myalgia (34.8% of the patients)
  • Shortness of breath/Dyspnea (31.2% of the patients)

Less common symptoms were:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

About 10% of the patients initially presented with diarrhea and nausea 1-2 days prior to development of fever and dyspnea.

What Kills a Coronavirus?

The extra layer – the “envelope” that Coronavirus carries – contains molecules necessary for the virus to enter cells. Any damage to this envelope can cause the virus to lose its ability to cause infection. Now what can damage this layer?

Ethanol to name one. Big reason why we are being advised to wash our hands and disinfect surfaces frequently. Ethanol has the capability to permeate the envelope and mess up the Coronavirus.

UV light can damage the virus’s genome so that it loses its ability to replicate further.

Disinfectants like chlorine disable the virus’s ability to recognise and bind to the host. Viruses can’t survive if they can’t bind to a host.

Heat and humidity have been found to accelerate the degradation of viruses.

Studies have shown that some coronaviruses can withstand both, very acidic as well as very alkaline parts of the digestive system.

Why are some viruses are so resistant to extreme conditions, where as some are highly vulnerable to slight change in their environment is still a matter under investigation.

Until researchers tell us more, keep washing your hands frequently, use sanitisers and disinfect surfaces that frequently come in contact with human hands, such as door knobs, toys etc. Listen here what the WHO recommends.

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