As cases of coronavirus infection proliferate around the world and governments take extraordinary measures to limit the spread, there is still a lot of confusion about what exactly the virus does to people’s bodies.
The symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath – can signal any number of illnesses, from flu to strep to the common cold. Here is what medical experts and researchers have learned so far about the progression of the infection caused by this new strain of coronavirus – and what they still don’t know.
The virus is spread through droplets transmitted into the air from coughing or sneezing, which people nearby can take in through their nose, mouth or eyes. The viral particles in these droplets travel rapidly to the back of your nasal passages and to the mucous membranes in the back of your throat, attaching to a particular receptor in cells, beginning there.
Coronavirus particles have spiked proteins sticking out from their surfaces, and these spikes hook onto cell membranes, allowing the virus’s genetic material to enter the human cell.
The swelling and the impaired flow of oxygen can reason those areas in the lungs to fill with fluid, pus, and dead cells. Pneumonia, an infection in the lung, can occur.
Some people have so much trouble breathing; they need to be put on a ventilator. In the worst cases, known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), the lungs fill with so much fluid that no amount of breathing support can help, and the patient dies.
So while the virus appears to zero in on the lungs, it may also be able to infect cells in the gastrointestinal system, experts say. This may be why some patients have symptoms like diarrhea or indigestion.
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