“There is only one form of infection that spreads faster than a virus. Fear.”

A new enemy is among us and we can see nothing else but its contrail. It’s fast and silent, but what is it exactly? What most of us know about this imperceptible invader is that “Mister X” is a virus with a scary name, so much that we often don’t even know how to call it precisely: SARS-2, Coronavirus, Covid-19 …

The true name of “Mister X” is SARS-CoV-2, which isn’t a casual jumble of letters.

Like every other virus it has a family, in this case it’s called “Coronavidiae”, because if observed with an electronic microscope it presents a positive RNA filament with the form of a crown, corona in latin.

Coronaviruses, identified for the first time in the ’60, are known to infect humans targeting epithelial cells and the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. Other human coronaviruses that we may remember are MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. The last one presents several similarities with the novel coronavirus. Well SARS, acronym we find in the name of our “Mister X” too, means “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”. We are talking about a virus that mostly causes respiratory illnesses that in a few cases can bring to aggressive pneumonia, for patients with a compromised immune system.

What differs from SARS, isolated in 2003, in today’s CoVd-19 is the mortality rate. As stated by OMS general director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyseus, “over 80% of the patients has a moderated form of this illness and heals.” The most common symptoms are in fact throat ache, headache and fever. “In 14% of the patients the virus causes a severe syndrome, with pneumonia and shortness of breath. Nearly 5% of the patients can present a critical clinical situation. In 2% of the cases the virus was lethal, mostly in elderly patients”.

Covid-19 is the pathology caused by the virus, where “D” stands for disease and “19” for the year when the first site of the outbreak was found, precisely in the now known city of Wuhan, in central China.

The virus spreads when an individual is exposed to infected biological fluids, such as saliva, or through direct contact, for example with our hands if not correctly disinfected after being in contact with the virus. The disease has a latency period between 2 and 10 days, but some doctors estimate a period of 14 days. To verify the presence of the virus in our system we can use a pharyngeal swab. About this procedure it’s important to know that a positive result doesn’t always correspond with affection, in other words people whose tests are positive don’t always show the symptoms caused by this virus.

As of today, research on the cure, for a specific antiviral medication or a vaccine, is still evolving. Although the study of viral entities isn’t easy since an actual cell is needed to make them reproduce in a laboratory, our researchers were able to isolate and genotype by sequencing the virus.

Sir Peter Medawar, Nobel prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1960, defined viruses as “a piece of bad news wrapped up in a protein coat”, but as he stated, “research is surely the art of the soluble”.

Giulia Scibè