What Makes The Coronavirus Deadly?

COVID-19 has infected more than 1.2 million people around the world and left thousands dead. Scientists and government officials warned that numbers may continue to grow, with hundreds of thousands of people potentially dying in the coming months.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said COVID-19 has a 3 to 4 percent mortality rate based on initial cases. The disease becomes deadly when it causes havoc with the immune system as cells try to fight the coronavirus in the lungs. 

COVID-19 has been linked to respiratory diseases SARS and MERS that previously caused outbreaks in many countries. The three diseases are caused by different members of the coronavirus family. 

Scientists consider SARS and MERS as more deadly than the new disease. However, the virus that causes COVID-19 has a unique set of genes, called accessories, which give “a little advantage in specific situations,” according to Benjamin Neuman, a professor of biology at Texas A&M University-Texarkana. 

How COVID-19 Affects The Body

The novel coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, targets type II lung cells. These cells produce soap-like substance that helps air flow deep into the lungs.

But the virus causes significant damage to the lungs when it triggers the immune system to increase its activity to defend the body. To fight the coronavirus, the system sends millions of cells to the infected lung tissue, which if out of control could damage the lungs. 

“SARS-CoV-2 is more severe than seasonal influenza in part because it has many more ways to stop cells from calling out to the immune system for help,” Neuman said in an article posted on The Conversation. “SARS-CoV-2 blocks this by a combination of camouflage, snipping off protein markers from the cell that serve as distress beacons and finally shredding any antiviral instructions that the cell makes before they can be used.”

Another reason that makes COVID-19 deadly is its effects on a protein that plays an important role in blood pressure. The coronavirus disrupts the ACE2 protein and prevents it from doing its job to regulate blood pressure. 

COVID-19 Spreads Fast

Researchers have found that the coronavirus could easily move from an infected person to another through exposure to droplets. In one case in South Korea, one or two people reportedly sat very close to uninfected people at a church for only a few minutes. 

Within two weeks, local health authorities recorded thousands of people contracted COVID-19. More than half of the cases at the time were linked to the church.

“There are still many mysteries about this virus and coronaviruses in general – the nuances of how they cause disease, the way they interact with proteins inside the cell, the structure of the proteins that form new viruses and how some of the basic virus-copying machinery works,” Neuman said. 

Coronavirus COVID-19 New York, USA A worker uses a forklift to move a body outside of the Brooklyn Hospital on March 31, 2020 in New York, United States. Due to a surge in deaths caused by the Coronavirus, hospitals are using refrigerator trucks as make shift morgues. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images