Humans and Health

What COVID-19 Actually Does to the Body, and How Lethal It Can Be 

From worried parents to curious schoolchildren, it’s not just the researchers that want to know what exactly coronavirus does to the body.  It may not come as a surprise that over £20 million has been allocated for research on coronavirus 

“This means that the cells stop their regular functions and start to mass-produce the virus – eventually the cell dies”

The virus can enter the body via the eyes, nose or mouth. Attaching onto specific (ACE 2) receptors on normal cells allows the virus to ‘hijack’ these cells. This means that the cells stop their regular functions and start to mass-produce the virus – until eventually the cell dies.  

The infection spreads to the throat, and many people experience a sore throat or cough at this stage. These symptoms are also associated with other conditions, such as the common cold. However, the coronavirus is more deadly than the common cold as it is more likely to infect the lower airways, as these have even higher amounts of ACE 2 receptors. Some people may also experience a fever as their immune system begins to attack the virus.  

The virus travels down the bronchi, into the lungs, where it causes inflammation of the mucous membranesAlveoli (air sacs in the lungs) can become damaged, impairing oxygen transport in the body. Further complications can arise, such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the airways and occurs due to swelling and fluid accumulation in the lungs. This can result in disastrous consequences, such as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). By this point, the patient would have been hospitalised, as it would be almost impossible to breathe due to the large volume of fluid in the lungs. Unfortunately, this results in very little oxygen being delivered to the vital organs, causing organ failure. This can result in death.  

“The mortality rate for the common cold/influenza is 1%, so in comparison the coronavirus is much more deadly.”

About 80 percent of people infected with coronavirus have relatively mild symptoms. But about 20 percent of people become more seriously ill; and in about two percent of patientsthe disease has been fatal. The mortality rate for the common cold/influenza is 1%, so in comparison the coronavirus is much more deadly. Researchers suggest that the coronavirus is more likely to produce serious symptoms in those with underlying health conditions, or those over 65 years of age.  

Ikra Mahmood  

Featured image courtesy of Nik Andr via Flickr. Image license found here.

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