The arrival of the novel coronavirus strain COVID-19 has certainly caught the world off guard. As researchers around the globe scramble to try and figure out the mechanisms of the virus and how we can develop a vaccine to combat it, very little is being said by the media when it comes to actual medical facts.
The virus infected an experimental lung worm, known as C. albicans, causing respiratory distress in mice that were being fed with lungworm parasites. When the C. albicans was accidentally transferred to the lungs of another group of mice, the viruses quickly spread. The researchers called this discovery “the largest clinical outbreak” of the coronavirus. But because the infections did not occur in people, they don’t think that they are causing serious illness yet.
The authors suggest that their findings may point to a possible link between coronaviruses and the immune system, particularly when a person is infected with the common cold. They believe that the human immune system may have been too quick to fight off the C. albicans infection, in that case just like the mouse immune system did. If the virus continues to spread, it could lead to a more severe form of the illness that the immune system is not prepared for.
It is hard to find links between infectious forms of diseases and the immune system, since most infections are caused by viruses. However, there is mounting evidence that suggests that the body’s response to viral infections plays a major role in disease progression. The same goes for the use of antiviral drugs in certain circumstances.
It is often hard to establish how a patient acquired the disease, especially if the illness occurred in the absence of any clinical history. Diagnosis of infection by the coronavirus relies on the fact that patients may appear as though they do not have any specific illness, such as an influenza-like or severe acute respiratory syndrome. In some cases, patients have been found to have a high level of antibody to the coronavirus that would support the claim of being flu-free. That may lead to tests that confirm that a patient did indeed catch the infection.
Whether the patients will continue to show such immunity to the virus is something that researchers will need to test. Scientists are concerned about the potential for a vaccine to help these patients.
The researchers also studied health care workers and nurses. While the virus is not yet present in humans, a small percentage of health care workers have had close contact with people who are sick with the virus, perhaps in developing countries. It is conceivable that the virus could become a problem in the United States, especially if there is a pandemic of the virus.
Researchers believe that their study is the first to show that the virus can spread in animals. The findings highlight the importance of identifying and controlling any cases of C. albicans. The best way to protect against a future outbreak of the virus is to understand what to look for in a person who develops a cold and be aware of the symptoms of the virus.