Mythbusters: COVID-19

On this episode of mythbusters …

One of the outcomes of this virus taking over our world, is the vast increase in reading and ‘research’ we have all been doing on COVID-19 and its updates — may it be about the virus, the statistics, the symptoms, economic effects…etc.

And while I am happy we are all getting more educated on [this particular strain of] viruses, it might be helpful to lay out some facts about our friends in the viral community, to answer some common questions we ask ourselves, lay some doubts to rest, or help put things in perspective.

I am not a doctor or have a science background, so don’t take anything I say as gospel — but no more than with a grain of salt.

As one of my friends recently put it, the problem with all this reading, is everyone now believes they are WebMD — with the power, right, and ability to theorize and make calls on this virus and how dangerous, mild, or different it is than others.

Let’s see if we can tackle some of the common thoughts out there.

I hear this virus replicates really fast and there could be millions of viral cells in your body in a few days …

Yes — that is correct — for COVID-19 and pretty much any virus out there. It is one of viruses’ main strengths — their ability to replicate quickly. In a ‘normal’ flu, there are usually 100 trillion viral cells in your body in just a few days after you’re infected — that’s over 10,000 times the # of people on this planet. This is normal and is their method of surviving.

Let’s step back a bit.

One of the evolutionary reasons why viruses replicate fast is they are not actually able to replicate on their own. They don’t have the tools internally to do so. They use live cells [ours, plants’, bats’…], to replicate. This is different than other organisms which replicate on their own. In fact, science is hesitant to call a virus an organism, or ‘alive’, for that reason; it doesn’t have its own nucleus, i.e. materials, to reproduce.

Therefore, when it finds a cell it can parasitize, i.e. use for its own purposes, it acts very quickly before it loses the chance, then moves on to the cell next door to do the same, replicates, and goes to the next, and so on. It’s a ‘survival’ mechanism.

Did you know COVID-19 can mutate and create an even more dangerous version?

Yes — correct. Once again, for COVID-19 and most any other virus you’ve heard of, been infected with, or sneezed off.

We mentioned above that viruses replicate very quickly. Let’s talk about mutations for a minute. Mutations are ‘mistakes’ which happen in the process of replication. The more an ‘organism’ replicates, the more chances it’ll make a mistake at some point. When viruses replicate, a perfect replication would be when the new virus is a replica of the old — no pun intended. Given the high # of reproductions, there’s a relatively high number of mutations, by simple probability.

What does this mean for the virus? Well, it’s also a defense mechanism of some sort. If you have been infected with the virus before, then your body has the antibodies stored, which it had made in the past, and is ready to fight it. However, if there have been too many mutations to this strain of virus since you were infected last, then our antibodies can no longer perfectly fight this virus, and we need to create new ones for the new strain.

This is exactly why you are offered a flu shot every year. It is not the same flu shot, or because you’re no longer able to fight against last year’s flu strain, it’s because the strains of the flu virus from last year have been replicating since last winter, and have created too many mutations , they are now basically a new kind of flu virus, which we create a new vaccine for.

So, yes, it is absolutely normal for COVID-19 to keep mutating and creating newer versions of COVID-19. Are they going to be more harmful? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know.

On a positive note, the mutated version of the virus can be harmless to us, it can mutate into a harmless version, as opposed to its more harmful ‘parent’.

Ok… but coronavirus is a new kind of virus — it replicates really fast and is really deadly, like SARS.

This is only partially true — coronavirus is not new. COVID-19 is a new strain discovered in humans — it’s been known to be in animals before. Generally, it is rate for coronaviruses to go from animals to humans, usually needs a mutation for it to be able to survive in humans.

Coronaviruses themselves are common in mammals. Some common colds are caused by coronaviruses. There are 7 strains which have been found in humans so far — 4 common ones, and 3 more recent more severe ones, which you likely have now heard of — SARS, MERS [kind of the Middle Eastern version of SARS], and now, the one and only COVID-19.

The reason we talk about coronavirus being potentially more dangerous than the flu is simply because coronaviruses in particular, similar to HIV, are known to replicate faster than the average virus.

Well, people are experiencing different symptoms — there are so many categories of symptoms .. which makes it an even more dangerous virus!

Not really. Any virus, or anything you take into your body — virus or otherwise — will have different reactions per person. Different people react very differently to the common cold, the flu [vaccine or otherwise], and other illnesses out there — no reaction is the same as another. Some have more sensitive lungs so they’ll notice a cough more, others will get a stronger fever.

What we know now is, the symptoms are likely a combination of cough/difficult breathing, fever, and runny nose. It is a mild illness [80% stop at mild], starts more mildly and might become moderate in a few days. This is different than the flu where it hits you at ‘moderate’, i.e. with fever right away, lasts for a few days and goes away. COVID-19 does the opposite — starts slow, gets stronger, then goes away, hence takes ~11 days as compared to the flu ~4 days.

So does it mean it is more dangerous because you never know if it is COVID-19 or not? No — you also never know if the flu you got each season is the same as the most common collection of flu strains that year or not, or if you will react to it the same way your friend will.

That’s all for now.

I wish you all good health. Remember, the virus does spread fast, but if you are a healthy adult, you are very unlikely to die from it — yes, you will get sick, but you get sick 2–3 times a year. Just stay away from your grand/ parents, get some rest, hydrate, and you’ll likely be back on your feet in 2 weeks.

If you have other questions, let me know and I will try to help. Will keep an eye out for common myths or fears out there.

Stay safe, stay calm, stay rational.

ps. if you came across it from LinkedIn, and made it all the way here, first — thank you, and second, if you were planning on liking it on LinkedIn, do you mind liking it here through a clap as well? Thanks and talk to you soon!

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Consultant by pay, writer by passion. Love listening to podcasts, books, and people. All about philosophy and psychology of life, happiness and humans.

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Ikram Al Mouaswas

Consultant by pay, writer by passion. Love listening to podcasts, books, and people. All about philosophy and psychology of life, happiness and humans.