You’ve already heard a lot about the corona virus and it’s symptoms which include fever, a dry cough, and of course, the dangerous inflammation of the respiratory system. But what exactly happens to your body when you have the virus? We’re here with a breakdown…
What is COVID-19?
As with all living things, a virus is also made up of genetic material, what is commonly known as DNA. According to a Medical Doctor and Psychiatry Registrar at the University of Cape Town, Dr Mzamo Jakavula, viruses and the ‘families’ they belong to, are named based on their genetic make-up. “Although this specific virus was not known until 2019, it shares similar DNA to viruses that belong to a group of viruses known as corona viruses and they are known to affect mostly the respiratory system in the body,” says Dr Jakavula.
According to the Centre of Disease Control (CDC), people with COVID-19 present with a very wide variety of symptoms which appear usually within 2 weeks of being exposed to the virus. “Most people experience symptoms which are similar to those of ‘normal’ flu or cold, and some people might not experience any significant symptoms at all; but even those who do not exhibit symptoms still carry the risk of infecting others if they have the virus,” says Dr Jakavula.
These symptoms include the following:
• Dry Cough
• Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
• Chills/ rigors
• Muscle pain
• Sore throat
• New loss of taste or smell
The corona virus attaches itself to any living cell in your body order to invade it and replicate – this is known as a host cell, says Dr Matsidiso Gula, a Medical Doctor, Health Advocate and Author. According to Dr Gula, viruses thus multiply in the same manner inside a human being. Due to the nature of transmission between human beings (droplet spread, contact with an infected person), the most common areas it will spread to first is the respiratory tract. However, Dr Jakavula says, it is not yet clear whether the primary route of entry is by breathing it in, or by contact with contaminated hand of the eyes, nose or mouth. Not all infected droplets are in the air, some fall onto surfaces which people then touch, and then proceed to touch their faces (hence the advice to wash hands diligently). Should it enter through the eyes, nose or mouth, the theory is that it is transmitted via the blood into the respiratory system where it then does most of the damage.
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Both Dr Gula and Dr Jakavula agree that when any organism ‘germ’ enters the body, the body’s immune system immediately mounts a defensive strategy by deploying cells ‘soldiers’ to fight the germ. They fight this organism using various methods, but most of these methods lead to what is known as inflammation, where toxic chemicals & fluids are produced and there might also be swelling in the area of the ‘battle’. This is particularly problematic if it happens inside the lungs, where the Covid-19 primarily attacks. “The lungs consist of air sacs lined with thin walls and very superficial blood vessels where exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide happens. These sacs have very little space, and if fluid accumulates in there, it swells which then affects one’s breathing,” says Dr Jakavula.
Your Mental State
Even though the virus has not been proven so far to directly cause any form of mental health problem, Dr Gula says it is common to experience the initial anxiety and acute stress to the positive result of COVID19. However, with support during self-isolation and treatment of symptoms, it is important that one reaches out for emotional support when unwell to avoid having more severe mental health challenges such as depression as in many cases the virus does not lead to severe illness.
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