2. What is COVID-19

Dear Parents,

Greetings from AUN. As per the FGN announcement last night, we are in the process of closing our university, and your sons and daughters can return home. More information will be sent to you shortly. 


This letter will be about COVID-19.


What is COVID-19?


COVID-19 is the World Health Organization (WHO) the official name of the “novel coronavirus disease 2019” that emerged in China in the year 2019. It is a virus, which means in isolation, without a host, it cannot grow and reproduce, it lacks most of the basic cell structures to do so. As such, it must find a healthy host cell and then take over the host cell machinery to replicate and spread. A virus is simply genetic material, with a shell coat composed of protein. It is inactive until it latches onto a host cell, which it then penetrates and uses the host cell to replicate the virus’ own genetic information, at the expense of the host cell. A virus can replicate and spread rapidly once it starts. 


A coronavirus is a special type of virus that under the microscope, appears to have pointy spikes directed outwards from the surface of the virus’ shell, giving it the appearance of having a “corona” or crown. These spikes are used by the virus to penetrate the host cell and invade it, allowing the virus to replicate and grow, causing infection. SARS and MERS were also coronaviruses; in fact, there are 6 known coronaviruses. COVID-19 is now the 7th known coronavirus, hence novel, or unique, from the 6 previously known coronaviruses.


Where did COVID-19 come from?


COVID-19 is zoonotic, which means it normally exists in animals, but can be transmitted from animals to humans and cause infection. The most prominent recent example of a zoonotic virus is bird flu (also called avian flu), which is transmitted from birds to humans. The leading theory about the origin of COVID-19, based on studying the genome of COVID-19, but yet to be completely confirmed, is that COVID-19 started in bats in China, and the bats transmitted it to another animal, possibly pangolins (an exotic armadillo-looking, mostly nocturnal, ant-eating mammal). These pangolins were then taken to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Jianghan District, Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, and the pangolins became the intermediary host, infecting humans. In essence, the current theory is that bats infected pangolins, then pangolins infected humans. Now it is spreading from human to human contact rapidly around the world.


When someone is infected with COVID-19, what happens?


Like all coronaviruses, COVID-19 mainly impacts the upper respiratory system. It can be so mild that some people do not report any symptoms at all, yet still test positive for COVID-19 and are capable of infecting others. The most common symptoms are fever and cough. Additionally, symptoms such as body aches, nasal congestion, runny nose, and sore throat can occur. At its worst, someone can have difficulty breathing and shortness of breath, and COVID-19 can ultimately lead to viral pneumonia especially in people with underlying heart or lung disease.


Any good news?


I end my letter today with some promising news:  Wuhan has had no new confirmed cases of COVID-19. The virus is decelerating there, as it continues to accelerate across the rest of the world. This gives us hope – if it continues to decelerate in Wuhan, where it all began, it will then eventually decelerate everywhere. Keep vigilant.


Always, with best regards, stay safe, Semper Gumby


Dawn Dekle, PhD

AUN President (Vice-Chancellor)


Teaser: stay tuned for the next letter from the desk of the AUN President, on the topic “COVID-19: Epidemic, Pandemic, or Infodemic?”