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A Doctor's Perspective on COVID-19

July 20, 2020 6 min read

Dr. Sandra El Hajj - MSc, N-MD, DHSc

A zoonotic disease that originated in China and spread all over the world incapacitating every single country, COVID-19 is a global threat now more than ever. This viral infection is common in bats; but, due to unknown factors, it was passed on to humans causing a devastating illness. Infections and diseases are specific to animals and humans. What affects one group does not necessarily affect the other, in the same way. So, with this new zoonotic disease outbreak, new recommendations and updates have been put in place to minimize its global impact.

How did it all start?

COVID-19 began its spread at the end of December in China. Since then, many countries have become part of this pandemic(1). Italy followed the footsteps of China and then this ‘thriller’ happened. Some report that this virus is a conspiracy against a country while others put the entire blame on China and its animal market. Some even talked about a special experimental lab that accidentally got the virus out. The exact truth relating to the initiation of the virus will remain unknown. In my personal opinion, what is for sure is that this is a viral infection that humans are not physically ready to fight. Its spread became uncontrollable because we live in a world with only virtual borders. This outbreak, just like all previous pandemics, demonstrated one more time that all nations are interconnected. What affects one, will eventually affect the others, in one way or another.

Global spread of COVID-19

Recently, COVID-19 is becoming a more virulent infection devastating individuals, families and nations from a health and economic perspective. More than eleven million people got infected by this novel virus and more than 595,000 individuals died. 

In the United States, so far, New York is one of the most affected states with about 409,476 cases and 32,133 deaths. California and Florida follow with 364,761 and 315,767 cases and 7,490 and 46,76 deaths, respectively. While New York has succeeded in controlling the spread and has reached the descending part of the bell curve, Florida is signaling the alarm sound with exponentially increasing cases on a daily basis. Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, and Arizona are also on the close watch with their cumulative cases exceeding 783,000(3).

In Europe, Russia leads with 58,001 cases, followed by the United Kingdom with 294,803 cases and Spain with 258,855 cases. Then comes Italy, Turkey, France, and Germany. While some states and countries have managed to control the spread of the infection and flattening the curve, others are taking the wrong turn, making wrong decisions and leading to exponential increases in their cases(4)

Is COVID a one-of-a-kind virus?

The world is dealing with a new virus. At least, new to humans. Nations began preparing their offensive line against it, in complete ignorance. Nothing was known and the health/medical field was dealing with an enigma. This is not so uncommon. After all, every infection and health condition peacefully existing now was once a “novel condition.” Only time and years of research and experimental trials advanced the management of every condition. COVID-19 is on the same path. It needs to take its course; many trials and errors are to be expected in order to reach a plausible treatment and preventive plan. 

What people probably are not aware of is that there are seven types of coronaviruses. Among these, four types are commonly infected humans. They probably infect us during cold and flu season, every single year. They do not cause any devastating impact as they are considered to be just like every other known viral infection. On the other hand, there are three coronaviruses types that are specific to animals. Their infectivity is not supposed to cross paths with humans. But, unfortunately, it did.

Coronavirus is not new

Back in 2003, one of the coronavirus families was commonly known as the SARS and it created a reign of terror worldwide. Mortality and morbidity rates were peaking and a wave of fear dominated the world. SARS had an infectivity rate of 9.6 percent and an incubation period of 5 days. Until now, there is still no vaccine or treatment available for this infection. Luckily, it kind-of disappeared. 

In 2013, the second animal-specific coronavirus crossed over to our side; and, animals passed the infection to us, humans. That type was known as the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). It infected the entire Middle East area causing sickness and deaths. Among these three types, MERS-Cov had the highest mortality rate that reached 35 percent. One-third of infected people died. This ratio is significantly high and problematic. The virus still has no treatment or vaccine to manage or prevent it(2).

Finally, in 2019, the third zoonotic coronavirus appeared causing the most chaos possible. The incubation period of this virus is 4-14 days; and, its case fatality rate is about three percent, at its worst. Until now, researchers and doctors from all over the world are working on a possible vaccine or treatment plan. 

If you notice, all three were zoonotic diseases with similar symptoms, transmission routes and incubation periods. All three caused a life-threatening status to the same population group: elderly with pre-existing health conditions. While the first two caused epidemics, the last one led to a pandemic. But, despite the years passing, there is still no valid adopted vaccine or treatment for both MERS and SARS. So, while the world’s top scientists and doctors are working on putting together the COVID vaccine and medication, what chances do they really have in succeeding? Could it be possible that COVID will somehow disappear or get adapted-for just like the first two types? Many questions still exist with no clear answer!

Some answers are clear

When the virus began in China, we, in the United States, were not accounting for the influx of infected people through our borders, airports and ports. This led to an uncontrollable spread of the not-accounted-for virus that filled our hospitals, killing many of our elderly. Four months of what turned into a horror movie has not ended. States are reporting a high number of cases, hospitals with full capacities, low reserves of necessary medications and an unquenched demand in ventilators. Our healthcare professionals are beyond exhausted, underfed and lacking sleep, which has lowered their immune system, putting them at high risk of COVID-related complications themselves. The result is young, medically dedicated professionals are becoming incapacitated for two to three weeks, and in some cases dying, and a lower number of health professionals are available to take care of hospitalized patients.

What is also striking here is that all three coronaviruses, normally infecting animals, ended up leaking their way into the human world. It took about 17 years in between; but, all three spread disastrously among humans. However, only the last type, COVID-19, led to a complete worldwide quarantine. 

Nations agreed on one solution this time: issuing a “stay-at-home” order. All the population of the world was asked to quarantine and never leave their homes. The impact of COVID was at many levels: lives were lost, healthcare professionals have been exhausted-to-death, families were shattered, and mental as well as emotional problems spread. 

Economically, the world closing cost the jobs of millions of individuals who were fired or got laid off. Reputable establishments got bankrupt and families were in financial ruin. COVID is a high-impact viral infection whose imprints are still ongoing. 

Now that the world is opening again, cases are peaking and worse than before. Does anyone have the right answer yet as to how to survive these infection waves? How long will this type of coronavirus take to clear? The hope is that the heat of the summer will have some partial effect on the structure of the virus, incapacitating it to a certain level. But, with states like Florida and Texas showing a dramatic increase in cases, there is a pressing need to issue a new stay at home order. Trust was given to the public, which has led to a disaster. The young and restless are either careful or completely in denial. But, when it comes to pandemics, not much is needed for a disaster to stay ongoing. Schools and universities must have fully virtual coursework with no on-site options. If extreme precautions are not imposed on the general public, COVID-19 will be among us for a very long time, uncontrolled, untamed and damaging.

In summary

In summary, COVID-19 is one of the most disturbing viral infections that has ever affected the globe. Its losses are not ordinary, its impacts incapacitating; and yet, with all the attempted rules and regulations, it still thrives. If very strict decisions are not taken, as soon as possible, and borders closed, this pandemic may keep persisting for a long time.

Data points were updated on Friday, July 17 per data from the NY Times and John's Hopkins University