Moorcroft Leader - The Voice of the Community Since 1909, Serving Moorcroft and Pine Haven, Wyoming

COVID questions and answers


March 19, 2020

Dear NP,

What does COVID-19 do to the body? What are the symptoms of COVID-19? J. R.

Dear J. R.,

It’s safe to say that COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, is on everybody’s mind. Knowledge is power in times of fear, so it’s critically important that you educate yourself on what the coronavirus actually does to the body so you can recognize its symptoms in yourself and your loved ones.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

According to the CDC, the symptoms of COVID-19 mainly include fever, cough and shortness of breath. These symptoms can later evolve into severe difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain, cognitive confusion and respiratory failure.

How does COVID-19 spread?

The major reason COVID-19 is proving to be such a formidable pandemic is because it is highly contagious. The virus itself lives inside of small droplets from the respiratory system. These particles are easy to accidentally get on our hands, usually from frequently touched surfaces.

The virus then easily finds its way into our eyes, nose or mouth. COVID-19 is particularly good at latching onto your cells once it enters your body, because its anatomy consists of a surface covered in spiked proteins that act like Velcro hooks in your cell membranes.

How does COVID-19 make you sick?

Unlike bacteria, viruses cannot reproduce on their own. Viruses hijack your cells’ machinery (DNA) to replicate itself many times over. These replicates mature into new viruses within your cells, and then burst out, destroying the cell. This subtler way of reproducing is part of why it’s so difficult to fight viruses with medications. To this day we do not have a cure for viruses like the common cold.

Coronaviruses begin their destructive journey of cell-murder in your throat. But as it runs its course and kills more and more cells, it eventually works its way into the bronchial tubes of the lungs. This is where the virus gets very dangerous. This level of inflammation in the lungs can cause extreme difficulty breathing.

Does COVID-19 only affect the lungs?

At this phase, the lungs appear to be where the virus spends the most time. However, the CDC states that RNA from the virus has been found in blood and stool samples, so at this time it’s difficult to tell how else the virus may impact the body as a whole. Although rare, some patients may experience diarrhea and indigestion with the virus.

Another concern with coronavirus impacting the rest of the body is in the form of autoimmune responses. Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville says, “The virus will actually land on organs like the heart, the kidney, the liver, and may cause some direct damage to those organs,” but there is also concern that the immune system turned up to the max will cause damaging inflammation throughout the body.

Can I get the virus without getting seriously ill?

Thankfully, yes. The effects of the virus often go unnoticed in patients with robust immune systems, which is most of us. However, people who are older or have compromised immune systems are more likely to develop severe symptoms. It is important for all of us to protect ourselves from the virus regardless of age, so we don’t accidentally transmit it to one of these vulnerable populations.

What do I need to do?

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast cure for the virus yet, so the CDC recommendations are largely common sense means of prevention. These steps include cleaning hands frequently, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when sick yourself, taking measures to cover coughs and sneezes and disinfecting surfaces as often as possible.

If you feel you are sick, call your healthcare provider and discuss your options with him or her. Make sure to continue to take steps to prevent transmission.

The threat of COVID-19 is frightening to us all. Nobody wants to get sick, and nobody wants to make anybody else sick. It’s important that we act now, follow recommendations from major health organizations and remain calm in the face of this crisis.

Dr. Wesley Davis is an Emergency Nurse Practitioner at Crook County Medical Services District and Coordinator of the Family and Emergency Nurse Practitioner program at the University of South Alabama. He encourages readers to send their questions to [email protected]


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