Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Virus a crap shoot, even for healthy


May 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is as big as planet Earth, but it’s because of what it does at the individual level that is interesting and a little frightening.

Most of what follows is freely translated from an article entitled “How does the coronavirus work?” in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review.

For starters, a coronavirus could run a lap around a human hair and it would be the equivalent of a three-mile run.

COVID-19 viruses are usually portrayed as little balls crowned, that’s the “corona” part, with nubs made of sticky stuff called glycoprotein. The nubs let coronaviruses stick to the cells they invade.

Once inside the cell, maybe they knock first, the virus’ glycoproteins look for a protein called ACE2. When ACE2 and glycoproteins get together, there is chemistry but it ain’t pretty.

Instead of flowers, the virus give the cell some viral RNA.

The RNA hijacks the cell machinery that makes proteins and voila, new viruses start appearing by the tens of thousands.

Some skip off to find new cells ripe for home invasion.

Others stay back and make a protein that in effect cuts the phone lines. The protein keeps the cell from telling the immune system, “We’re under attack.”

The cells get understandably upset, and their temperatures rise. If they’re in you, you get a fever.

White blood cells eventually do get the memo, though, and they go to work in their own weird ways. Some eat the viruses. Some plant antibodies around other cells that block new viruses from entering other cells, and some spray poison on the viruses the best they can.

So, what makes you sick?

According to the MIT piece, “infection is a race between the virus and the immune system.” Both the viruses and the fight against them make you unwell.

Your body can get in its own way with fevers, which can help kill viruses but also burn good proteins while they’re at it, and with a “cytokine storm.”

Cytokines are proteins that keep viruses from reproducing, but they’re abrasive about it. Too many can cause fatal hyper-inflammation.

How bad COVID-19 gets depends on things known and unknown.

“The milder the initial dose, the more chance the immune system has of overcoming the infection,” MIT says. After that first dose, however, the relationship between symptoms and subsequent numbers of viruses is unknown.

If it doesn’t go lower than your vocal chords, you’ll probably be OK. If it goes further down, trouble can get serious. There’s a connection between whether you’ve had respiratory illness and the likelihood that COVID-19 viruses will glom onto lung cells.

Compromised immune systems are also more likely to make COVID-19 worse. It’s a good time to cut down on some bad habits.

But young, healthy people get severe COVID-19 infections, and unhealthy people get only mild cases.

Even for the healthiest, it’s a crap shoot. Protect yourself.

Steve Hansen writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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