As scientists and researchers try to make a vaccine that kills the coronavirus, they have also found out new information that will help them make a better vaccine, writes Dr Noor Gill
It has been eight months since we’ve been backed into the corner and forced by circumstances to learn new things about ourselves. Some of us have discovered that we love to experiment with cooking, others have come to the conclusion that anything that involves turning the stove on, is not for them. We’ve been learning new things about each other and we’ve been doing the same with the virus that forced us to do all this in the first place.
A lot of new information about the novel coronavirus has come to light over this short span of 8-9 months. As the scientists and researchers try to make a vaccine that kills the virus, they have also found out new information that will help them make a better vaccine.
Here is some new information that the scientists have discovered and the doctors have noticed in their patients.
The coronavirus affects how your blood clots.
Initially COVID-19 was thought to largely affect the lungs and cause respiratory symptoms and manifestations such as pneumonia. But since April’20 it has even noticed in COVID-19 ridden patients that they develop blood clots. Blood clots have emerged as one of the most serious symptoms which has led to a lot of stroke related death, especially in the young. It has been noted that 40% of COVID deaths are related to cardiac complications.
Doctors and researchers seem to strongly believe that the virus is a vasotropic virus i.e it affects the blood vessels.
In a paper published in April in a scientific journal “The Lancet” it was published that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect the endothelial cells of the lungs, blood vessels, heart, kidney and liver.
Normally, the endothelial lining inside the blood vessels protects them from releasing the clotting factors and regulating an appropriate response. Damage to the same creates havoc.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has an extra protein that it requires to crack open the virus and inject its genetic material into an otherwise normal cell, to infect it. This protein which is required to activate SARS-CoV-2 is present in all cells, especially endothelial cells. Unlike its sister virus SARS which could only find its specific protein in the lung tissue.
Many patients in the ICU are developing blood clots including clots in small veins, deep vein thrombosis, cardiac arrest causing clots in the coronary vessels and stroke causing clots in the cerebral arteries.
All these facts and informal when looked at together make coronavirus look like a vascular infection and not just a purely respiratory one.
You can loose your sense of smell
Harvard Medical school publishes, “Temporary loss of smell or anosmia, is the main neurological symptom in COVID 19 patients and it is also the most commonly reported indicators of COVID 19. Studies suggest that the involvement of the nervous system presenting as loss of smell/taste better predicts the disease than the other well-known symptoms.”
This being said, the underlying mechanism for loss of smell in patients with coronavirus has not been entirely understood.
The olfactory sensory neurons don’t express the gene that encodes for the ACE-2 receptor protein which the coronavirus uses to enter the human body. So how does it manage to affect the patient’s sense of smell/taste? Dr. Sandeep Robert Datta an associate professor of Neurobiology in the Blava tink Institute at Harvard Medical School says- “our findings indicate that the novel coronavirus changes the sense of smell in patients not by directly infecting neurons but by affecting the function of the supporting cells. This indirectly caused changes in the olfactory sensory neurons.”
This is not bad news, because this means that it is unlikely for SARS-CoV-2 infections to cause permanent damage or persistent anosmia.
It can trigger a serious inflammatory response
COVID 19 infection is accompanied by an aggressive inflammatory response with the release of a large amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines in an event which is called a “cytokine storm”. This results in a hyperactive response leading to an aggressive inflammatory reaction. It is being speculated that the virus itself may be directly setting off an immune cascade that results in a hyper-inflammatory response. Let me try to simplify and explain it to you- the clots that the patients had in their blood was accompanied by deposition of complementary proteins. Complementary proteins are distinct plasma proteins that try to fight the pathogen and induce an inflammatory response to help fight off the infection. When these proteins are activated, they set off a cascade of events, chick lead to a hyper inflamed state.
Multi-system inflammatory syndrome in children (MSI-C) is a condition where inflammation in multiple organs such as the heart, lungs, kidney, brain, eyes, skin, gastrointestinal organs, etc. is seen. The cause for this is not yet determined boy many children that had been diagnosed with MSI-C also tested positive for COVID 19.
It can travel from animals to humans and back
Cats, dogs and tigers can be infected with the coronavirus and can spread it to other cats, dogs and tigers. The team, at Harbin Veterinary Research Institute, concluded that no evidence that chickens, pigs and ducks can catch or transmit the virus has been found. But cat owners should not be alarmed just yet.
After several lions and tigers at the zoos showed symptoms of respiratory illness, veterinary doctors took diagnostic samples from an anesthetized tiger. And these samples were sent to two separate laboratories for testing. All the samples did test positive for SARS-CoV-2. There is a high probability that the feline creatures were infected by a positive homo sapien but whether or not the reverse is possible is still being looked into and as off this writing, no documented cases of feline pets spreading it back to humans has been noted.
Animal-to-human transmission was considered a rarity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) “Several cats and dogs in contact with positive humans had tested positive for COVID 19. In addition, ferrets appear to be susceptible to the infection too. In experimental conditions, cats and ferrets were able to transmit the infection to other animals of the same species. However, there is no evidence that these animals can transmit the disease to humans and spread COVID 19.” However, the WHO also noted and elaborated “in an few instances, the minks that were infected by humans have transmitted the virus to other people. These are the first reported cases of animal-to-human transmission.”