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How serious is coronavirus?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on September 28, 2020. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


As the world continues to cope with the ongoing pandemic, scientists continue to research the novel coronavirus to better understand it, reduce the risk of spread, and eventually find a cure or effective vaccine. This pandemic has seen over 1,000,000 deaths and over 30 million individual cases worldwide (both numbers continue to climb every day)—which shows that the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, is a serious and dangerous virus. Read on to learn why coronavirus is dangerous and why you should continue to take the pandemic seriously.


If you’re experiencing potential symptoms of COVID-19, consider getting tested with the Everlywell COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit—an at-home coronavirus test kit that gives you quick, accurate results.


Understanding the novel coronavirus

The novel coronavirus has been termed SARS-CoV-2. The “SARS” part of its name refers to “severe acute respiratory syndrome.” The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 was officially named “COVID-19” in February 2020. COVID is simply short for “coronavirus disease,” while the 19 designates the initial discovery of the virus in late 2019. Coronaviruses represent a large family of respiratory viruses ranging from the common cold to other, more serious viruses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). All coronaviruses feature short, spiky projections on their spherical surfaces, making them look like a crown—hence the name “corona,” which is Latin for “crown.”

The “novel” part of the novel coronavirus simply refers to the fact that this is a new virus that had not been previously identified. This also means that humans had not been exposed to it and thus do not have immunity to the virus.

Severity of the novel coronavirus

While many people initially compared the novel coronavirus with the flu, we have since learned that SARS-CoV-2 is more dangerous than the common flu. (Related: Coronavirus vs. the flu: what’s the difference?) When trying to understand how dangerous coronavirus is there are several factors to consider, which we discuss below.

Transmissibility

The novel coronavirus is known to be highly contagious, meaning that it can spread relatively quickly from one person to another—which mainly occurs through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that—for some populations and age groups—the virus is more contagious than the flu. What’s more, the novel coronavirus is associated with more “superspreading events” compared to the flu. A superspreading event refers to instances in which a single patient with the infection transmits the virus to a larger-than-normal number of people.

These factors make the novel coronavirus a particularly dangerous or “serious” virus because it can easily spread through entire populations of people—one major reason why SARS-CoV-2 has caused a pandemic.

Lack of information

Because the virus is a novel coronavirus there is still a lot we don’t know about it, leaving many unanswered questions. This general mystery has made it hard to control the virus, but it has also given way to a great deal of panic and distrust. Misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories have thrived in this environment.

Take, for example, the initial rumor that antimalarial drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could act as an effective treatment for COVID-19. In reality, the claims were shaky at best—contributing to severe side effects among some of those who tried antimalarials, and reducing supplies for people who were actually suffering from malaria.

Worse yet, the spread of misinformation has created even more distrust of valid methods to reduce the spread of the virus (such as mask-wearing). The lack of information has also had a direct effect on larger policies, from opening schools to allowing for indoor dining.

This limited information surrounding the virus, combined with some people’s distrust of rigorous scientific research, may be prolonging the pandemic, and contributing to further spread of viral infections.

Unknown symptoms

The lack of information also applies to the actual symptoms associated with this infectious disease. People with COVID-19 have displayed a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Chills or fever
  • Coughing
  • Sore throat
  • A runny nose or sinus congestion
  • Difficulty breathing or pressure on the lungs
  • General fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Headaches
  • A sudden loss of smell and taste
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea

However, the actual extent of symptoms is not completely known. Responses from patients can vary dramatically—from severe symptoms that require immediate attention to mild symptoms that don't result in hospitalization. A small percentage of those with COVID-19 have been known to exhibit conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye. Some patients with COVID-19 have developed blood clots as a symptom, which has many scientists theorizing that the virus may be a disease of the blood vessels and vascular system—not one purely affecting the respiratory system.

Also, some people may be asymptomatic. This means that they may carry the virus without showing any obvious outward signs of having it, and potentially spreading the virus to other, more vulnerable people without even knowing it. Scientists are actively studying why some people are asymptomatic while others are not.

Lingering symptoms and recovery

In the early stages of the pandemic, most people had a binary understanding of the disease: you either had a mild, minor case that eventually went away after a couple of weeks of bed rest, or you had a severe illness that left you in intensive care. However, more and more people with the virus are finding that recovery can be a long process with ebbs and flows of symptoms that may not completely go away.

Numerous cases show those with coronavirus still experience some form of the disease several months after initial diagnosis. Even with mild cases of coronavirus, patients have been found to suffer months of brain fog, hypertension, heart arrhythmia, joint pains, and other debilitating symptoms that may not have any other explanation.

Unknown long-term effects

One of the most significant unknowns about the novel coronavirus is its long-term effects. Beyond the potential risks of reinfection, we still do not know if someone with the virus (either symptomatic or asymptomatic) will experience ongoing effects even after the virus has run its course.

Many studies show that those who have recovered from even mild cases of the coronavirus have lasting damage to their heart muscles, which can weaken the heart and contribute to heart complications later on. The type of pneumonia associated with COVID-19 can damage the lungs and create scar tissue that can continue to affect breathing. The disease’s effects on the brain have been known to contribute to strokes, seizures, and Guillain-Barre syndrome—even in young people.

Because much is still not known about COVID-19, scientists have looked to similar diseases, like SARS, to understand potential long-term effects. Many who have recovered from SARS developed mood and fatigue issues, including chronic fatigue syndrome. This is a disorder that is characterized by extreme physical fatigue that does not improve with rest.

No natural immunity, no vaccine

Why is coronavirus deadly? A main contributor to mortality rates is the lack of natural immunity and the lack of a vaccine. There is no proven “cure” for the virus, and the body’s immune system is often unable to mount an effective defense against a novel coronavirus infection. While there are certainly risk factors that can make for more severe symptoms and outcomes (most commonly a suppressed immune system, being over the age of 65, and having an underlying health condition), people in every age group and demographic are at risk of complications from this infectious disease. Scientists still aren’t sure if antibodies will protect against the virus, meaning that even those who have tested positive for antibodies may still either contract the virus, or carry the virus and transmit it to others.

Conclusion

Considering the points above, it’s clear that the novel coronavirus—responsible for COVID-19 and a devastating pandemic—is something to take seriously, for both yourself and the people around you. Simple but effective ways you can help curb the spread of the virus include: practicing proper social distancing, washing your hands, and wearing a mask in public.

Testing has also been one of the most important ways to better understand the coronavirus outbreak, prevent its spread, and provide personal peace of mind. Everlywell provides an FDA-authorized COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit that is easy to use and provides accurate test results—typically within 24-48 hours of the lab receiving your sample. If you believe you may have contracted the virus and are experiencing symptoms, consider using the Everlywell COVID-19 Test.


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References

1. WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard. WOrld HealthOrganization. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

2. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

3. Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19​. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

4. Lotfi M, Hamblin MR, Rezaei N. COVID-19: Transmission, prevention, and potential therapeutic opportunities. Clin Chim Acta. 2020;508:254-266. doi:10.1016/j.cca.2020.05.044

5. Al-Tawfiq JA, Rodriguez-Morales AJ. Super-spreading events and contribution to transmission of MERS, SARS, and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). J Hosp Infect. 2020;105(2):111-112. doi:10.1016/j.jhin.2020.04.002

6. Coronavirus - Frequently Asked Questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

7. Long-Term Effects of COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

8. Coronavirus FAQ - Symptoms & Emergency Warning Signs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.

9. Coronavirus - How to Protect Yourself & Others. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed September 28, 2020.