Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Authors: Brandon Chen, Rain Cheng, Grace Xie
Editors: Tiffany Chan, Joyce Hai, Lydia Ren, Simran Gohel, Demi Leng, Tyler Vazquez, Shannon Tan, Molly Zhao, Leon Zhou
Artist: Tiffany Chen
Over the past few months, COVID-19 has plagued the world without a direct cure. Due to its sudden appearance, many lack the understanding of the science behind it. Although the current pandemic is labeled as SARS-CoV-2, there are many common strains of the coronavirus, such as the alpha coronavirus (229E, NL63) and the beta coronavirus (OC43, HKU1). Studies have shown that these strains have continued to evolve, forming other diseases such as MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-1, and SARS-CoV-2. A major component of a virus is studying how the body reacts to it.
To understand the science behind COVID-19, it is important to first discuss the function of the immune system, the body’s primary defense system against viruses and diseases. The immune system is composed of two parts, the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is the body’s natural defense system, as well as the first responder to any general invader, such as toxins, bacteria, and viruses. By deploying phagocytes, cells that surround and engulf invading cells, the innate immune system can fend off unwanted foreign substances. B lymphocytes, a type of immune cell that develops from stem cells in the bone marrow, generates antibodies used as protection against specific invaders. Memory B cells are then created to shield the body from future encounters. As COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, scientists quickly created a test to obtain information about individuals who have recovered from the virus. These individuals carry a powerful “gold mine” - antibodies, which can be used as a treatment for others who contracted the virus. The antibodies are located in the blood plasma and typically allow individuals to recover from the virus effectively.
However, there have been many instances where individuals have tested positive for the virus again after seemingly recovering. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), scientists currently do not have enough evidence to understand how and why some individuals may experience this reactivation.
The most commonly recognized symptoms of COVID-19 include shortness of breath, fever or chills, and persistent pain or pressure in the chest. Individuals with the coronavirus also experience fatigue, cough, muscle or body aches, sore throat, nausea, headache, and loss of taste or smell. Patients have reported a wide range of symptoms depending on the severity of their illness.
Just like how individuals may experience a varied range of symptoms, the coronavirus poses different risk levels to everyone. Elderly individuals are significantly more prone to the risk of contracting COVID-19, as they are more likely to have other underlying conditions. As a result, there is also a higher COVID-19 death rate for the elderly population. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the overall death rate of COVID-19 is 2.3%, but that percentage rises to 14.8% for individuals aged 80 or older.
Moreover, after Dr. Robert Redfield, from the CDC, suggested the possibility of asymptomatic carriers, researchers in Iceland reported that 50% of their novel COVID cases, which tested positive, showed no symptoms. This phenomenon may be a huge clue as to why COVID-19 has spread so rapidly. Asymptomatic carriers may have unknowingly spread the disease to others, prompting moderate to severe symptoms in other more vulnerable victims.