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What happens in the body after infection with coronavirus: step by step

As the 2019-nCoV coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States, leading to major events being canceled, schools shut down, the stock market crashing, and everyday life malfunctioning, Americans are taking precautions against coronavirus infection, which causes illness and death of thousands of people around the world. writes USA Today.

Photo: Shutterstock

The World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people pay attention to fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath - symptoms that follow infection with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

From the onset of infection to the onset of symptoms, approximately 5 to 12 days elapse. Here is a step-by-step look at what happens inside the body when the virus is fixed in it.

Coronavirus infection

According to the CDC, a virus can spread from person to person within 6 feet (a little less than 2 meters) through droplets that form when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

It is also possible that the virus will remain on the surface or object, be transmitted by contact, and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes.

Dr. Martin Hirsch, senior physician at the Infectious Diseases Service at the Massachusetts General Hospital, said that much remains to be learned about the new virus, but experts suspect that 2019-nCoV coronavirus may act similarly to the 13-year-old SARS-CoV virus. back.

“This is a respiratory virus, and therefore it enters through the respiratory tract - we think primarily through the nose,” said the doctor. "But it can enter through the eyes and mouth because other respiratory viruses behave this way."

When a virus enters the body, it begins its attack.

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Fever, cough, and other symptoms of COVID-19

According to Hirsch, a person may develop symptoms within 2-14 days after the initial exposure to the virus. On average, this happens after 5 days.

Once inside the body, it begins to infect epithelial cells in the mucous membrane of the lungs. The protein at the receptors of the virus can attach to the receptors of the host cell and penetrate the cell itself. Inside the host cell, the virus begins to multiply until it kills the cell.

This first occurs in the upper airways, which include the nose, mouth, larynx and bronchi.

The patient begins to experience a mild version of the symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and headache, muscle pain and fatigue, comparable to signs of flu.

Dr. Praha Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, but these are relatively rare.

Symptoms become more serious when the infection begins to enter the lower respiratory tract.

Pneumonia and autoimmune diseases

According to WHO, in February, about 80% of patients fell ill with COVID-19 in mild to moderate form. “Mild” cases include fever and cough that are more severe than seasonal flu, but do not require hospitalization.

These milder cases are due to the body’s immune response being able to retain the virus in the upper respiratory tract, says Hirsch. Younger patients have a stronger immune response than older patients.

13,8% of severe cases and 6,1% of critical cases are related to the fact that the virus enters the lower respiratory tract, where, apparently, it begins to grow.

“The lungs are the main target,” Hirsch said.

According to Dr. Raphael Viscidi, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, as the virus continues to multiply and spread further through the airways and lungs, it can cause more severe respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Pneumonia is characterized by shortness of breath combined with coughing and affects tiny air sacs in the lungs called alveoli, Viscidi said. In the alveoli, oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged.

When pneumonia occurs, a thin layer of alveolar cells is damaged by the virus. The body responds by sending immune cells to the lungs to fight it.

“And this is causing the shell to become thicker than usual,” he said. "As the cells thicken more and more, they essentially stifle a small pocket of air, which is what you need to get oxygen into your blood."

“So it's basically a war between the body’s response and the virus,” Hirsch said. "Depending on who wins this war, we either have good results when patients recover, or bad results when they don't."

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Limiting oxygen intake leaves important organs without it, including the liver, kidneys, and brain.

In a small number of severe cases, this can develop into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which requires the patient to be placed in a ventilator (artificial lung ventilation) to supply oxygen.

However, if too much of the lungs is damaged and not enough oxygen enters the rest of the body, respiratory failure can lead to organ damage and death.

Viscidi emphasizes that such an outcome of the disease is rare for most patients infected with coronavirus. People over 70 years of age with weak immune reactions are most susceptible to the serious course of the disease. Other risk groups include people with lung problems, chronic diseases, or an impaired immune system, such as cancer patients who have received chemotherapy.

Viscidi encourages people to think of coronavirus as flu, because the virus goes through the same process in the body. Many get the flu and recover without complications.

“People have to remember that they are as healthy as they feel they are,” he said. "And you shouldn't feel unhealthy to the extent that fear dictates."

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