Herman Z. Sabath, PhD, MSc, MPH, CMC
Board Certified Microbial Consultant Sr. Public Health Practitioner and Educator
The word “corona” comes from the Latin for crown. Corona viruses look like small circles covered with spikes ending in little blobs surrounding its surface, resembling a crown. (See below) Corona viruses are a large group, mostly of zoonotic origins (from animals such as bats, camels, Pangolins: a scaled exotic mammal, etc.). The name COVID-19 was given by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee on Taxonomy (Classification): the “D” from disease and “19” standing for the year 2019 when the first SARS COV-2 (a new strain of the Coronavirus) case in Wuhan (China).
Corona viruses are defined and nominated after meticulous microscopic analysis of their spikes. Carrying two types of proteins: HEMAGGLUTININ (H) and NEURAMINIDASE (N), such as H1N1, the virus was first recognized in 1919 flu pandemic that killed millions. H1N1 is still circulating as seasonal Type A flu virus, popularly named ‘swine flu’. Bird flu, for example is H5N1 and H7N9, while the seasonal human influenza virus is best adapted to humans. Different viruses have different H and N proteins: there are16 (1-16) H and 9 (1-9) N types of proteins, which gives 144 different possible combinations due to intergenic and antigenic drifts and shifts of H and N proteins.
This time, the mighty family of Corona Virus strikes again, spreading fast from the epicenter in Wuhan area in China into Iran and as far as Italy and Spain, making Europe the new epicenter. In each of these geographically remote areas thousands of individuals and sometime entire families (China, Italy) were infected and uncountable hundreds or thousands underreported (Iran: more than 12,000 deaths, on the date of writing this article, and clusters of infected people around the globe. The situation warranted the WHO to declare a global pandemic, a step higher than the more moderate phenomenon of epidemics.
Every time there is an outburst of an “emerging disease” due to a virus or bacteria, we witness emerging myths and stories such as accidental spillovers or the birth of conspiracy theories of planned “leaks” or even bioengineered virus by “enemies.”
In reality, there is incredible biological diversity of corona viruses and we are just facing the tip of an iceberg when it comes to emerging epidemics. While all are natural occurrences, we have to be prepared that some can cause human illness, and some can infect wild animals, such as monkeys, camels, rodents, birds, bats and pangolins), the last two used for food in some places, may end up in humans’ bodies. The symptoms seen and reported in humans range from relatively mild flu symptoms, cough, fever, breathing difficulties, diarrhea and different degrees of pneumonia.
1. MILD. In 80% of recognized cases, COVID-19 causes mild to moderate illness (WHO), starting with a fever, respiratory symptoms, aches and pains and dry cough. In most cases, the mild COVID-19 is not dangerous, unless the affected individual has underlying health issues or in older people, when a mild case can evolve into the moderate category.
2. MODERATE. A wide range of symptoms including coughing, fever above 100.4 degrees, chills and a wide spectrum of shortness of breath, in which case medical attention/advise is required.
3. SEVERE. According to WHO-China joint mission in about 1 in 5 affected individuals the infection worsened. 14% can evolve into the category Severe .
4. CRITICAL, 6% of all cases will evolve into the critical stage of the disease and may get into septic shock (life threatening condition due to wide-system infection) **
**At this stage of the COVID-19, THERE IN NOT A UNIVERSILY ACCEPTED DEFINITION of what symptoms are associated with certain designation as mentioned above.
For your convenience see below the table: “a comparison of most well-known coronaviruses” (what they have in common and how they differ).
It is important to know that similar to many other respiratory viruses, such as the flu virus, the SARS COVID-19 can be spread in tiny droplets released from the nose and mouth during coughing, sneezing and even talking. One single cough can generate up to 3,000 droplets. Some of these droplets may land on peoples clothing, hair or skin when they are closer than 2 meters from the source (6.5ft) and on surrounding interior surfaces. Therefore, the WHO and many other health organizations have recommended frequent hand washing and disinfection of interior surfaces for prevention of SARS COVID-19 spread.
Following the SARS COVID-19 outburst in the Wuhan province, environmental contamination was tested positive, suggesting that virus-laden droplets may be deposited and displaced on surfaces on medical equipment and general indoor interior surfaces. That makes interior surfaces potential media of transmission. Fine droplets of the size of 1 to 5 microns can remain airborne for hours and in still air even for days.
Depending on the type of the inanimate surface, it was observed that viruses may persist as follows: Steel: 48 hours Stainless steel: 2-3 days Wood: 4 hours Metal: 5 days Paper: 4-5 days Copper: 4 hours Cardboard: up to 24 hours Plastic: 2-3 days
Indoor surfaces should, therefore, be cleaned and disinfected adequately with a recognized EPA registered biocide, such as Sniper, etc.
At the same time, good, personal and general precautions, should always be implemented: Sneezing and coughing in a tissue paper and disposed immediately, or in lack of availability of tissue paper, coughing or sneezing into a bended arm is recommended. Washing hands frequently with water and soap, avoiding shaking hands and touching the face are as important as keeping interior surfaces clean and disinfected.
Herman Z. Sabath, PhD, MSc, MPH, CMC*
* Board Certified Microbial Consultant Sr. Public Health Practitioner and Educator