The coronavirus could damage people’s kidneys and send their immune systems ‘haywire’ as well as infecting the lungs, according to scientists.
More than 90,000 people have now been infected with the COVID-19 disease, which is known to cause serious lung damage and deadly pneumonia.
It does this by attaching to and reproducing in tissue inside the lungs, where it kills cells in the process of spreading.
As the cells are killed they drop off of the lungs’ linings and build up in clumps inside the organs, making it hard to breathe and triggering further infections.
The virus can also send the immune system into overdrive as it tries to fight off infection, triggering swelling which can lead to more breathing difficulties.
If a severe infection takes hold it may move on to cause damage or dysfunction to the stomach, intestines, heart, liver and kidneys, and even provoke organ failure.
Around 90,000 people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, which causes an illness called COVID-19, since the beginning of January, and more than 3,000 patients have died.
Experts said the COVID-19 coronavirus (illustrated) might never go away now that it as taken hold in humans, and that it could become a regular seasonal illness similar to flu
The coronavirus outbreak, which is teetering on the edge of becoming a global pandemic, has so far infected almost 90,000 people worldwide and killed more than 3,000
The coronavirus is officially a respiratory infection, meaning it affects the lungs and airways. Typical symptoms are a cough, trouble breathing and a fever.
Among people who die from the infection – around 3.4 per cent of all patients, according to latest figures – most suffer from pneumonia, a lung infection which causes the airways to fill with fluid.
CORONAVIRUS COULD BE 1,000 TIMES MORE INFECTIOUS THAN SARS
The coronavirus could be up to 1,000 times more infectious than SARS because it plagues the body in the same way as HIV and Ebola, scientists warn.
Experts initially presumed the spread of COVID-19 would follow the same trajectory as the SARS outbreak in 2002/3, because the viruses are almost identical genetically.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, infected 8,000 people worldwide and killed 774 people in a year in 2002.
But in just two months the current coronavirus crisis has already hit around 90,000 and over 3,000 have succumbed to the illness.
Nankai University researchers looked at the genome sequence of COVID-19 and found a section of mutated genes that did not exist in SARS.
Instead the coronavirus has ‘cleavage sites’ similar to those in HIV and Ebola, which carry viral proteins that are dormant and have to be ‘cut’ to be activated.
HIV and Ebola target an enzyme called furin, which is responsible for cutting and activating these proteins when they enter the body.
The viruses trick furin so it activates them and causes a ‘direct fusion’ between the virus and the human cells. COVID-19 binds to cells in a similar way, the scientists found.
‘This finding suggests [the new coronavirus] may be significantly different from the SARS coronavirus in the infection pathway,’ the scientists said in the paper.
‘Compared to the SARS’ way of entry, this binding method is “100 to 1,000 times” as efficient,’ they wrote.
The study was published on Chinaxiv.org, an online platform used by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Professor Mark Fielder, a biologist at Kingston University in London, said scientists have recently pinpointed the types of cells the virus appears to attack.
He told Sky News that goblet cells and ciliated cells are the ones most affected by the coronavirus.
They are responsible for keeping the inside of the lungs moist and clearing them of any debris like dust or bacteria.
‘The problem we’ve got here is the virus infects these cells and starts to kill them,’ Professor Fielder said.
‘And as it kills them as part of its replication process, tissue falls into the lungs, and the lungs start to get blockages. And that blockage might mean that the patient develops pneumonia.’
This could trigger pneumonia as the viruses and dead tissue clog up parts of the lungs and make them swell up, producing fluid which can block breathing.
The immune system can also worsen the symptoms of COVID-19 by going ‘haywire’ and damaging healthy tissue in its attempts to stop the virus, Professor Fielder said.
He told Sky: ‘It can actually almost over attack, and become what we call hyperimmune, and set up a large attack which can then start to damage the healthy tissue underneath.’
The coronavirus may also damage other internal organs as it takes hold in the body.
Researchers have found signs that coronavirus patients have had damaged livers and kidneys, but there is little evidence to prove the virus caused it.
Lung problems can reduce the amount of oxygen which circulates through the body, Dr James Cherry at the University of California, Los Angeles told Healthline, in turn starving organs like the kidneys of the oxygen they need to function properly.
Organ failure is a serious health emergency and can kill if it’s not repaired quickly.
Dr Laura Evans, from the University of Washington, added that a ‘good proportion’ of people with severe coronavirus infections developed problems with other organs.
Coronavirus attaches to human cells by deceiving an enzyme which can make it ‘fuse’ to proteins inside the body and cause the infection
In little over a month more than 10,000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Britain, of which 36 came back positive
THE PHYSICAL STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO AVOID CATCHING CORONAVIRUS
Wash your hands
The World Health Organization’s advice is for people to wash their hands at least five times a day with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
Friction, experts say, is the key to scrubbing off any signs of infection.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson today insisted the public should remember to wash their hands frequently, while singing Happy Birthday twice.
Proper handwashing involves rubbing the palms together, rubbing the backs of the hands, interlocking fingers both backwards and forwards, scrubbing the thumbs and washing the fingertips.
Avoid hugs and hand-shakes
Keeping people apart is one of the main ways governments can attempt to stop the spread of the virus – what officials call ‘social distancing measures’.
In Italy, France and Switzerland, for example, public gatherings of large groups of people have been cancelled or banned.
And the French government has urged people to avoid ‘la bise’ – the traditional greeting of kissing someone on either cheek – and not to shake hands.
Health minister Olivier Veran said: ‘The reduction in social contacts of a physical nature is advised. That includes the practice of the bise,’ Bloomberg reported.
It comes as Germany’s interior minister today refused to shake Angela Merkel’s hand today amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in the country.
Resort to ‘air handshakes’
The handshake is becoming a taboo greeting among workers, as employees and clients fear the spread of coronavirus in the workplace.
A motivational speaker and presentation coach has now devised the ‘air handshake’ because of the ‘unfolding coronavirus situation’.
Richard McCann hosted an event in Leeds on Saturday and later posted a video that showed him greeting a man with an air handshake.
Posting to his social media accounts, Mr McCann questioned whether was being paranoid for not shaking the hands of those attending his £300 per-ticket event.
Experts say the most common way the coronavirus is thought to spread is by people touching surfaces which have been contaminated by an infected patient.
This works by somebody who has got the disease coughing or sneezing onto their hand, then touching a surface while they have the viruses on their hands.
The viruses then survive on that surface – such as a doorknob or a handrail on a train – and are picked up by the next person who touches it, who then touches their face and transfers the virus into their mouth, nose or eyes.
Beware doorknobs, lift buttons and handrails
‘The lifts and the public toilets, these are the places where I would be very, very careful about touching any surfaces to not risk a coronavirus infection.’
He said that a lift was a particularly high risk place because everybody is trapped breathing the same air and having to press the same buttons.
One tip he saw on social media suggested pushing lift buttons with a pen rather than a finger. According to Alistair Miles, an Oxford University researcher, everyone should stop touching their faces.
He said in a tweet: ‘Stop touching your face. Especially stop touching your eyes, nose or mouth. This is much much harder than it sounds, and takes practice. But if you start practising now, you will quickly get a lot better at it.’