BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Category: Student Post (Page 1 of 54)

It’s in the Air – The transmission of COVID-19

Since the start of this global pandemic in March, a major issue has been the lack of knowledge on the virus. It has been the job of scientists to research and informs the general public of the virus. As more research has been conducted, we have a better understanding of the virus and its effects. The most important part of stopping the virus though is understanding how the virus is transmitted.

What is Covid-19? 

Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2. This virus took America by storm, killing almost 350 thousand Americans. This disease cause mild to moderate respiratory illness in healthy patients with no medical problems. In older people with health issues, this becomes an extremely serious illness. Health problems that put people at a risk include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. The virus is transmitted three main ways.

Contact Transmission

The first way the virus is spread is by contact transmission. Contact transmission is an infection spread through direct contact with an infectious person. For example, shaking someone’s hand, high-fiving someone, or touching a surface that someone infected has touched.

Droplet transmission

Another way the virus spreads is by droplet transmission. Droplet transmission is the spread through respiratory droplets that contain the virus. This type of transmission usually occurs when someone is within six feet of an infected person. For example, if you are sitting in the car with someone who is infected without your mask for too long, you will probably end up with the virus due to droplet transmission. This is the reason masks are so essential to stopping the spread of this virus.

Airborne Transmission

The last way this virus spreads is through airborne transmission. Airborne transmissions similar to droplet transmission, but airborne transmission contains smaller droplets and particles that travel distances longer than six feet. This is dangerous because the guideline that everyone follows is six feet apart but the virus can actually travel further than that and still be dangerous.

How to stop the spread?

Wearing your mask and social distancing is the most important thing to do when trying to stop the spread of Covid-19. SARS-CoV-2 enters the body preferably through the mouth and nose. After that, it enters your cells by binding to the receptor on the cell membrane and begins to reproduce. Masks are a physical barrier between our noses and mouths, preventing the droplets that cause the virus to be released or inhaled. Masks are essential in this fight against the virus so we all need to do our part so we can return to some sort of normalcy in 2021.

What face mask should you go buy?

When you are leaving your house, how do you decide what mask to wear that day? Have you tried different kinds? Masks have become a new part of our daily life. We all have to wear masks in social situations or anywhere out in public in order to prevent ourselves and others from contracting coronavirus. In the past few months, there have been many different types of masks that are being sold. Some even have super cool designs, and some are more comfortable than others. So, when you are picking a mask, do you stop and think about which one is the most effective at doing its job of protecting you?

Overview on Masks and the protection

The article from Healthline explores the variety of masks, and discusses the usefulness. In general, masks are an essential preventative measure to take as it reduces the risk of transmission of Covid-19, along with the other protective measures, such as distancing and proper hygiene. The purpose of masks are to protect oneself from the respiratory droplets from traveling into the air. It is especially important to protect yourself in public because around 80% of the coronavirus transmission has been rooted from asymptomatic carriers. An asymptomatic carrier is someone who has contracted the Coronavirus, but has no symptoms of the virus. However, asymptomatic people can still spread the virus.  By wearing a mask, one is able to prevent the airborne transmission of the coronavirus pathogens through our bodies primary defenses such as the mouth, nose and the eyes. Since the coronavirus pathogens are able to get past the barrier defenses if you do not wear a mask and take other preventative measures, this triggers innate cellular defenses, which lead to the inflammatory response in our body, such as fevers, colds and more. Inner surface is lined with tiny hairs cilia or mucus membranes which trap pathogens and can be removed by sneezing or coughing or swallowed to be broken down by stomach acids.

Surgical Masks and Valve Masks

Surgical masks are disposable, single use masks that cover your mouth and nose. They are made out of a breathable synthetic fabric. There is not a airtight seal around the area it covers, and there has been a large range on how the surgical masks filter pathogens. Respirators have intense filters that filter the pathogens in the air. These are also airtight, unlike the surgical masks. Some of the respirator masks have valves which lets some exhaled air to escape. The downside to this is that it does not protect others from pathogens exhaled through the valves. This is because the valves in the mask allow respiratory droplets from the person wearing the mask out into the air and get to other people.

N95 Respirator Masks

N95 masks can protect one from particles as small as 0.3 microns. N95 masks are extremely effective in preventing airborne particles from entering through the areas of the nose and mouth. The name “N95” comes from the fact that the respirator blocks 95% of small and large particles out. The ‘N’ is the respirator rating class. The ‘N’ stands for “non oil”, so basically no oil based particulates are present. The filtering and protection is much higher than a surgical or a cloth mask.

Homemade and store bought Cloth Masks

Masks that many people make at home are considered to be the least effective as the fabric is less secure and allows for small droplets to enter inside the mask. Also, many of these cloth masks have gaps near the nose, jaw or mouth area that also be areas where the droplets can be inhaled by the person wearing the mask. If you do wear a mask made at home, use 100% cotton fabric, which is the most effective material for cloth masks. Now, most stores are selling all different kinds of cloth masks. In general, all cloth masks vary with effectiveness as they are constructed with different fits, materials, and layers which all effect filtration. But, overall, store bought masks have had better securely fitting masks, which is very important in wearing a face mask for protection to properly cover the nose and mouth. If you are buying a cloth mask from a store, look for cloth masks that come with a nose wire and a filter insert which upgrade the masks. Overall though, whether it is homemade or store bought, surgical and n95 masks are more effective than both in protecting the wearer.

Overall, a key factor in any mask usage is how you wear the mask. Have you caught yourself accidentally letting the mask slip off your nose, and not doing anything about it? The proper usage is extremely important in having the masks be effective and prevent ourselves from getting the virus. We are in a very critical time, and the least we can all do is wear a mask to protect ourselves, others and lower the spread of the virus. We can all help reduce transmission! Be sure to wear a mask and be safe!

PCR? Rapid? Antibody? Are these tests really accurate? Here is your guide to Covid-19 testing

As we are entering what seems to be a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak, how should we approach getting tested and should we be relying on our results? 

According to the article written by John Ingold of the Colorado Sun, there are many tests that are used to test traces of SARS-CoV-2 but knowing when and what you are taking is crucial to stop the spread.  Covid-19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome that has quickly caused a global pandemic. SARS-CoV-2 is a single stranded RNA-enveloped virus that contains spike proteins that allow viruses to penetrate host cells and cause infection. These spike proteins are divided up into two subunits, the S1 subunit and the S2 subunit. Once the S1 subunit binds to host cell receptors, two changes must occur for the S2 subunit to complete the fusion of the virus to the cell membrane. To test for coronavirus, the FDA has approved 170 different diagnostic tests and 47 blood tests for the virus. These tests are now being given out nationwide so they are more accessible to everyone but studies have questioned the accuracy of these tests. However, due to the numerous amounts of tests, it is crucial to know the differences and to learn which tests are right for your specific situations.

Blood Tests vs Diagnostic Tests

Blood tests, which are also called serological tests, test the blood for antibodies. Antibodies are indicators that your body has produced a immune response to the virus. The immune system protects the body against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. In this case, the innate immunity is used to fight off Covid-19. Innate immunity is a defense that is active immediately upon infection. It is the first and second lines of defense and is a very rapid response. B cells within your body react to invading pathogens which causes the antibody to control the infection. These blood tests are usually used to test whether you have been previously infected by the virus but will occasionally detect whether you have the virus at that moment.

Diagnostic tests use other types of bodily fluids such as nasal mucus or saliva to test for an active infection. As you may have seen, they use long Q-tip swabs to swab the inside of your nose or mouth which they then send to a lab.

Sensitivity vs Specificity

When telling whether or not a test is accurate you must keep in mind the sensitivity and the specificity of the test.

Sensitivity tells whether or not the test is able to accurately detect the presence of an active virus. The less amount of sensitivity, the higher chance of receiving a false negative.

Specificity tells whether or not the test is able to accurately rule out the presence of an active virus. The less amount of specificity, the higher chance of receiving a false positive.

A guide to testing: 

Antibody Tests: As stated previously, antibody tests tend to be more sensitive than they are specific. The FDA found that most antibody tests have sensitivity values near 100% but specificity values near mid-90’s. This leads to an increase in false positives. The FDA also found that in some antibody tests, the positive predicting values are under 60% which means that it is very possible that there is a 50% percent chance that you actually have them and a 50% chance you don’t. Ultimately, these tests are sometimes quite unreliable.

PCR Tests: The PCR test, polymerase chain reaction, is a test that searches for the virus’ genetic material. The PCR test increases the genetic material so that it reaches detectable levels. These tests are administered by Q-tip swaps and take a few days to process them. The PCR is considered the most accurate test available and many say that if you have symptoms or have been exposed, this is the test for you.

Rapid Tests: Rapid tests have become increasingly common as they are faster and more consumer-friendly. However, scientists warn people that they are best used to determine if your cold is actually a cold or if it is Covid-19. If you are asymptomatic, they suggest a PCR test. Emily Travanty, interim director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s state and public health lab, warns that the rapid test is significantly less sensitive which in case may lead to false negatives.

Antigen Tests: Antigen tests for the virus by looking for which specific proteins are on the surface of the virus. These tests are highly specific so are unlikely to deliver false positives and more likely to give false negatives. If you are being tested repeatedly, antigen tests are the best for you. However, if you are only getting tested occasionally, you should get a PCR test in order to confirm your results.

By knowing which type of test you should get in your specific situation, you are helping the cause of stopping the spread. As we enter what many people are starting the call the “second wave” it is crucial to get tested constantly in order to protect those we love. (Note that if you have been exposed it is recommended to isolate for a week at home before getting tested as the the virus needs time to accumulate. Testing too rapidly will increase your chance of getting a false negative.)

Post-Covid Culture: A Paradigm Shift

Many people are counting down the days until we are vaccinated and this whole catastrophe is “over”. However, many people do not stop to think about just how different life will be for those who have lived through the now infamous years of 2019 and 2020. Even if the entire population was vaccinated and COVID-19 could suddenly disappear, there will be drastic shifts in our way of life in categories ranging from socializing to our own government.

Before diving into the broader scheme of how COVID-19 will affect our culture, let’s focus on something that affects our daily lives: Community. The knowledge of touching things, being with other people or even breathing the same air as others is a risk will not just recede quickly in all people. Awareness “can never vanish completely for anyone who lived through this year”. It may be common for us to be hesitant to shake hands or touch our faces. People may find that they cannot stop washing their hands. Instead of finding comfort in being around others, we may find more comfort in isolation. “Instead of asking, “Is there a reason to do this online?” we’ll be asking, “Is there any good reason to do this in person?”—and might need to be reminded and convinced that there is”. COVID-19 is ironic in the sense that while it creates more distance, it is simultaneously creating more connections. As people communicate more often with people who are physically father away, we may develop ideas that these people are safer to us because of that distance. However, as COVID-19 has the advantage of potentially fostering new relationships with people potentially across the world, it puts others who do not have tech access at a major disadvantage. In a sense, a person must be online to be a part of this new found community. Moving our relationships online may further alter connections to people past the physical aspect. Small things like introducing yourself or even going on a first date can likely shift with this online format.

Now, let’s take a look at the broader picture. The first thing that we will examine is our beliefs:

American is a highly patriotic country. COVID-19 may unsuspectedly bring a new sense of Patriotism to the table. You may be wondering, how so? As a country we build statues and salute those who risk their lives for our citizens. With COVID-19, the title of hero may extend from soldiers to doctors who, without a choice, risk their lives everyday to support the ill. Saluting or saying “Thank you for your service”, as we do now with the military, does not seem so far fetched.

Another big characteristic of Americans is our individualism. While COVID-19 can be thought as creating more individualism, it is in fact doing the exact opposite. Every single person that has lived through this past year has fear of getting sick. Although this is a vice, COVID-19 has become everyone’s common enemy. While in the past people would show up to school and work with fevers and illnesses, COVID-19 has created a social responsibility. It is expected of everyone to stay home when they are sick, and to not expose themselves at the risk of exposing others.   People are now also educating themselves on how viruses work and will be more hesitant to enter the public without a mask on. As we learned in AP Biology, Viral fusion proteins bind to receptor molecules in order to enter a cell. Our greatest defense of beating a virus is if our white blood cells have memory of this virus and know how to kill it. Since most have not yet been exposed to COVID-19, getting this virus is very tough on the immune system. When COVID-19 ends, people will not easily forget how easily sickness is transmitted and will not take being sick so lightly. Things like the common cold will not be overlooked. “Millions of cases of the common cold occur in the United States each year, spreading easily from person to person” . People will be socially obligated to stay home for something as small as cold symptoms, and will easily be able to work from home due to remote work and learning. While this is a benefit because it has the ability to potentially reduce the spread during flu season , having the ability to work remotely will essentially end the divide between work and home life. There will no longer be snow days! Why lose a day of education when you can hop on zoom? Home will no longer be an escape from the sometimes overwhelming work environment.

 

Something that many people have overlooked is COVID-19’s impact on Religion. Corona may make Religious worship look very different. All faiths have had to deal with the challenge of keeping faith alive during adverse times, but there has never been a time where all faiths have struggles at the same time. “How do an Easter people observe their holiest day if they cannot rejoice together on Easter morning? How do Jews celebrate their deliverance from bondage when Passover Seders must take place on Zoom, with in-laws left to wonder whether Cousin Joey forgot the Four Questions or the internet connection merely froze? Can Muslim families celebrate Ramadan if they cannot visit local mosques for Tarawih prayers or gather with loved ones to break the fast?” . Quarantine will challenge connections of what it means to be a minister or a religious follower. However, religious gatherings moving to Zoom give people who have no local congregation where they live a sample of from afar. It is predicted that during these times contemplative practices will gain a lot of popularity. 

 

Now, let’s analyze how COVID-19 will affect something that seems to be on everyone’s minds – the government. First off, Congress can finally go virtual! Going virtual can greatly benefit the U.S Congress, as it is essential they continue to work through this crisis. As gatherings are limited to ten or few people, The House of Representatives does not seem like the best option. Congress has already had two members test positive for the virus. This is a great time for members to go virtual and return to their districts permanently. Not only is this necessary for the health of our representatives at the moment, but it also has other great benefits. Having members of the Congress work in their district keep them close and connected to the people they are representing. This can make the lawmakers more “ sensitive to local perspectives and issues” . Party conformity may also loosen when members remember local loyalty over party ties. On the other hand it will be extremely difficult to lobby congress and replicate parties and receptions across the entire country. Also, Big Government may make a comeback during this pandemic. “The battle against the coronavirus already has made the government—federal, state and local—far more visible to Americans than it normally has been”. As we listen for daily health updates, we find ourselves looking at government officials for guidance and our national leaders for hope.  According to Politico, not only will America need big government to get out of this crisis, but we will desperately need it in the aftermath of COVID-19 . But that’s not all! Let’s think about the election we just had, It is very possible that Electronic voting will go mainstream. “We have been gradually moving away from this model since 2010, when Congress passed a law requiring electronic balloting for military and overseas voters, and some states now require accessible at-home voting for blind and disabled voters”. With the old way of voting putting US citizens is a compact, dangerous situation we had to shift. Voting online will become more mainstream in the future. There is proven technology that includes voting on a mobile device that transfers the information to a paper ballot format. This system has been used in more than 1,000 elections in the past decade and will become the new normal. 

 

Wow, that was a lot ! How can COVID-19 effect so many diverse fields of life? Well, this is not even brushing the surface of the magnitude of change that is to come. We need to brace ourselves for a true paradigm shift, and take this opportunity to make the change a change for good. And, in the process try to stay united in a world of distance.

At the Coronavirus Drive-Thru: Which Test Would You Order?

As the world faces the Coronavirus pandemic testing has become a hot issue that people are facing in their daily lives.  But the question remains, which test is best?  It is likely that we will never know the answer to that question, but an understanding of the options available can certainly help the general public to make an informed decision before selecting a method of testing.  According to the article from the Financial Times, titled “What coronavirus test does the world need to track the pandemic?” there are two main types of tests for the virus officially named Sars-CoV-2: Antigen tests and Antibody tests. Antigen tests are used to detect whether or not an individual is infected with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 while antibody tests are used to determine if an individual has been infected in the past.

Antigen tests come in two varieties, a rapid version that delivers results in minutes and another using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to multiply the genetic material found in a virus containing sample from an infected individual which takes longer.  Both the rapid and the PCR tests can be performed on a sample collected using a nasopharyngeal swab but can also be done using a throat swab or saliva sample.

The virus can be detected as early a the first day of symptoms but is most accurate in the first week.  This is measured by the cycle threshold where the lower values indicate positive results.  No tests are always accurate but the rapid tests have been found to have more false positive and negative results than the PCR tests.  In a study performed by Vermont’s Department of Health only four individuals of 65 who had tested positive with the rapid test, also tested positive with the PCR test.  Because of this many states require both tests to confirm a positive diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the PCR tests have also shown high incidences of false negatives.  Regardless of which test is used, the accuracy still seems to be connected to the manufacturer of the test itself. Since the PCR test is thought to be the most accurate because it detects the presence of the genetic material of the virus, it is less likely to provide a false positive.  As result, these are best used to identify infection as opposed to letting an individual know that they are not infected.

Antibody tests require a blood sample in order to detect the presence of antibodies against Sars-CoV-2 because once an individual is infected with the virus their immune response creates IgM antibodies that are present close to the time of infection and IgG antibodies that are produced longer after infection.  These antibodies are proteins produced by the white blood cells that help to fight the virus, so if they are present in an antibody test, is clear that the individual has already been infected.  When an individual is infected with a virus, lymphocytes called B cells are triggered by the presence of the antigen of that virus, and bind to the antigen using an antigen receptor.  This then causes the production of cells that produce proteins called antibodies which have the same shape and structure as the antigen receptors of the B cells making them helpful in directly defending against antigens present in body fluids. Antibody tests provide a quick result and are preferred because they help people to determine if a person can return safely to society with less risk of infection.

As the pandemic became a global issue many tests began to be developed but the antigen tests were more commonly performed in the public while the antibody tests were reserved for private companies due to the need for more materials like swabs and reagents to perform the tests.  Both tests are being created all over the world but some countries are producing more than others and the US was slow to get started but has increased production more recently. Because the tests must be of good quality, and the staff that are using them must be trained well, it is hard to produce them fast enough.

 

Mutation in the Nation

We constantly think of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as a single virus, one enemy that we all need to work together to fight against. However, the reality of the situation is the SARS-CoV-2, like many other viruses, is constantly mutating. Throughout the last year, over 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes have been studied by scientists around the globe. And while when we hear the word mutation, we imagine a major change to how an organism functions, a mutation is just a change in the genome. The changes normally change little to nothing about how the actual virus functions. While the changes are happening all the time since the virus is always replicating, two viruses from anywhere in the world normally only differ by 10 letters in the genome. This means that the virus we called SARS-CoV-2 is not actually one species, but is a quasi-species of several different genetic variants of the original Wuhan-1 genome.

The most notable mutation that has occurred in SARS-CoV-2 swapped a single amino acid in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This caused SARS-CoV-2 to become significantly more infective, but not more severe. It has caused the R0 of the virus, the number of people an infected person will spread to, to go up. This value is a key number in determining how many people will be infected during an outbreak, and what measures must be taken to mitigate the spread. This mutation is now found in 80% of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, making it the most common mutation in every infection.

Glycoproteins are proteins that have an oligosaccharide chain connect to them. They serve a number of purposes in a wide variety of organisms, one of the main ones being the ability to identify cells of the same organism.  The spike protein is a glycoprotein that is found on the phospholipid bilayer of SARS-CoV-2 and it is the main tool utilized in infecting the body. The spike protein is used to bind to host cells, so the bilayers of the virus fuse with the cell, injecting the virus’s genetic material into the cell. This is why a mutation that makes the spike protein more efficient in binding to host cells can be so detrimental to stopping the virus.

In my opinion, I find mutations to be fascinating and terrifying. The idea that the change of one letter in the sequence of 30,000 letters in the SARS-CoV-2 genome can have a drastic effect on how the virus works is awfully daunting. However, SARS-CoV-2 is mutating fairly slowly in comparison to other viruses, and with vaccines rolling out, these mutations start to seem much less scary by the day.

 

Antibody Concoctions: Possible COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment?

We all have heard the exciting news about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine: a possible savior and source of hope for years to come. According to a LiveScience article by Nicoletta Lanese, “an antibody cocktail designed to prevent and treat COVID-19” entered late-stage trials over the summer. Scientists have been working to find an effective treatment that doesn’t have as many limitations as current findings. A treatment known as convalescent plasma therapy has been circulating clinical trials. It is not FDA-approved and therefore not available to the public. Antibodies are extracted from recovered COVID-19 patients and injected into sick patients in order to boost their immune systems. This method is too unreliable and unpredictable.  The plasma donors all have a variety of antibodies. Some have proven to be effective against the virus by not letting it enter cells in the first place. On the other hand, nothing is guaranteed and a patient could be injected with antibodies that have no effect against the virus. To reduce this risk, drug developers have noted the effective antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and mass produced them in a lab.

This is a representation of what a spike protein would be under a microscope. The clinical trials are testing to see which antibodies can bind to the spike proteins and prevent them from entering/infecting healthy cells.

Another possible therapy called REGN-COV2 has also entered a late phase in its clinical trial. It supposedly has two antibodies that can prevent the virus from infecting healthy cells by binding to the spike protein. Hopefully the FDA approves the drug at the end of its current phase (phase 3), so short and long-term effects can be monitored. The Co-Founder, President, and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, Dr. George Yancopoulos, released this statement: “We are running simultaneous adaptive trials in order to move as quickly as possible to provide a potential solution to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections, even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.” Many other pharmaceutical companies continue with their trials to search for antibody treatments against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The universal goal is to find a longer-term solution and stop the rising mortality count.

I originally chose the topic of prevention, because I thought it was only going to include mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s incredibly interesting that this article is another scientific take on preventative measures. The article shows how hard scientists and companies are working on developing a treatment. My main intention for this topic was to show how important it is for everyone to partake in the effort to stunt the spread of the pandemic. With recommended safety procedures as well as current trials, I’m optimistic that there will be great progress in our near future. I was able to link this to our AP Biology class, because we recently covered the immune system! The article refers to antibodies, and I know that they are the humoral defenses that go for pathogens. These antibodies are originally secreted from B-Plasma cells in order to bind to and neutralize the pathogens. By using plasma from recovered patients, I assume they are relying on the B-Memory cells to prevent infection/re-infection in other patients.

Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments! How much longer do you think we’ll have to wait? Do these new updates give you hope about returning to a state of normalcy? I’d love to know.

UPDATE

Since the summer of 2020 (when this article was released), a lot has changed. Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was granted an Emergency Use Authorization in November. While this seemed to be heading the trials towards an optimistic future, that was not the case. Presently, only the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines are FDA-approved for public use. What happened to REGN-COV2? According to this Washington Post article, 80% of the allocated dosage supply is remaining unused in overcrowded hospitals. There is a common sentiment that resources should not be going towards an “unproven treatment”. The only FDA-approved antibody in the Regeneron cocktail is bamlanivimab. Although we are all eager to return to normalcy, we must be conscious of what is the best for our health.

Comparing Saliva Tests to Nasopharyngeal Swabs

Although many college campuses have closed within the past couple of weeks, for the few months they were in session, the general public was introduced to a new procedure for COVID-19 testing: Saliva tests. There are multiple reasons why a saliva test would be more ideal for campuses to use, and it’s not just because the nasopharyngeal swab testing is extremely uncomfortable.

A nasopharyngeal swab is basically a biological term for the COVID-19 test that goes all the way up your nose. News-Medical actually came out with an article going through the testing procedure, and how the SARS-CoV-2 is detected. The purpose of the swab test is to reach the nasopharynx, which is where nonpathogenic and pathogenic bacteria and viruses lie. It’s also used to test the flu and pneumonia. In fact, UC Davis published that they have just come up with a rapid test that could detect both the flu and COVID-19 in one nasopharyngeal test. This makes it the most convenient method, but it’s more expensive; making this harder to upscale for mass testing). It also requires more supplies, and puts health care workers in close contact with infected individuals. Saliva tests would be a lower cost, but there was uncertainty in its accuracy. The Scientist highlights three main experiments that help better our understanding of saliva testing.

The first experiment was led by Yale epidemiologist, Anne Wylie. Wylie and her colleagues tested the accuracy of swab testing using 70 suspected COVID-19 patients admitted to the Yale-New Haven Hospital. They found that saliva samples contained more copies of the SARS-CoV-2 than swabs. The group concluded by saying that they see potential in the saliva swab; however, this was only tested in one controlled area, and the patients at this point were showing symptoms.

The second experiment, led by Mathieu Natcher, took place throughout the French Guiana. There were 776 participants ranging from (wealthier) villages, forests, and more poor neighborhoods. Natcher discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was still present within saliva for a long period of time, despite climbing temperatures, which makes this idea for situations where testing needs to happen in areas where temperature can’t be regulated. The one downside noticed during this experiment was that saliva testing was less sensitive than nasopharyngeal swabs, which means that it can be harder to pick up the bacteria, if there is less in their system. Therefore, saliva testing may not always be as efficient for asymptomatic carriers or people who just became infected.

Pharmacologist at the University of South Carolina helped develop the school’s saliva test, and reported her findings after school came back in session. She noticed that although saliva may be less sensitive, the repetition of testing these students makes it more possible to catch the infection shortly after it comes. She also ran an experiment on two students living together: one of which had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and the other was at risk. Both students got tested daily using the nasopharyngeal and saliva swabs for the two weeks. She found that the amount of the virus detected in both tests for the positive patient were the same, leading her to conclude that saliva and nasopharyngeal tests both have the same sensitivity. Banister also explained that not the lower sensitivity coming from the saliva test in comparison to the nasopharyngeal test could be due to the fact that saliva turns over quickly in the mouth, while the nasal cavity and lungs hold the virus for longer. Banister also said because of this saliva tests might be a more accurate depiction of who is actually infectious, because the virus stays in the lungs even after the patient is no longer infectious.

We have come a long way since this article was initially posted, and saliva tests have been released to more of the public for a longer period of time. It is interesting to see how these preliminary tests played a role in whether or not to further release saliva tests.

CRAZY NEW COVID-19 Mutation Makes Virus Weaker Against Antibodies

As revealed in a fascinating article that details a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a mutated form of the virus has been discovered to be much more susceptible to antibodies produced by antibody drugs. This means that it is more easily disabled by antibodies produced by drugs such as the new vaccine. However, this may not all be good news as this new strain, called D614G, is also much more transmissible. D614G originated in Europe and has quickly become the most prevalent form of the virus. According to professor of epidemiology at UNC Ralph Baric, “The virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission.” These nasal epithelial cells act as a physical barrier against any pathogens attempting to enter the body and play a significant part in the control of the innate and acquired immune response. As we learned in biology, one method of innate immune response that our bodies have is mucous that traps pathogens. The nasal epithelial cells contain cilia that act to push the mucous and the pathogen contained inside out of the body. This means that if this new virus reproduces exceptionally well within the nasal epithelial cells, then it is extremely transmissible through any expulsion of mucous by either sneezing or coughing. It is also far more capable of bypassing the barrier of the mucous and entering the body. These epithelial cells also help the innate immune system by producing various cytokines. If a virus manages to make it past the barrier defenses, the epithelial cells will secrete cytokines. These cytokines will attract a type of cell called a neutrophil that digests pathogens. This means that these nasal epithelial cells are vital to the innate immune response and having a virus strain reproduce so effectively inside of them is extremely worrying.

The researchers believe that D614G is so effective at reproducing because it increases the virus’ ability to enter cells. The D614G mutation opens a flap on the tip of one of the spikes on the side of the virus which allows it to infect cells more effectively. However, this mutation also creates a weakness in the virus. When the flap is open, it becomes much easier for antibodies to bind to the spike proteins, preventing the virus from attacking additional cells.

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin contributed to this study by experimenting with hamsters. To test the airborne aspect of this mutation, the hamsters were placed into different cages and groups so they could not touch and inoculated with either the original strain or D614G. By day two, in the group exposed to the mutation, six out of the eight hamsters were infected with D614G. In the group of hamsters exposed to the original virus, no additional hamsters were infected by day 2. This shows that this D614G is extremely effective at being transmitted airborne. However, the mutation had the same symptoms and effects as the original virus meaning it is not more severe. The researchers have also noted that these results may not be the same in human studies. I think that this study is equal parts of good and bad news. I am glad that the most prevalent form of the virus is much easier to deal with, but it is quite terrifying that it could mutate to be so much more contagious. How do you feel about this new development? Let me know in the comments. 

How Is Covid- 19 Really Spread?

Background- It is clear that Covid- 19 has been a fatal and vicious virus causing a pandemic, but how is it actually spread? The answer to that question can be found in the World Health Organization’s article titled “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted?”.  The article discusses how the SARS-CoV-2 virus, commonly known as the Coronavirus, is spread between people. First, lets quickly zoom into the biological elements of transmission. On a cellular level, the outside of a coronavirus molecule is a spike protein which latches on to specific receptors that fuse it into human cells. The proteins “trick” the human cells into letting them enter and infect them. Once in the healthy cell, the virus spreads its genetic material and spreads throughout your body.

When/Where can the virus spread more easily?- The risk of transmission is highest when people are in close proximity to others for a long period of time. The World Health Organization, or WHO, describes that the more people in a group, the more likely the virus will spread. Any crowded spaces, close contact, or confined spaces with a lack of ventilation. Additionally, it has been found that people are most contagious early on in their illness, although this can range person- to- person.

Transmission of virus via liquid particles – The WHO claims that one way in which a person can transmit the virus is through small liquid particles spread by coughing, sneezing, speaking, or even just breathing. The liquid particles, most commonly respiratory droplets, vary in size, and transmit the virus from person to person. When in close contact with someone with the virus– less than six feet– you can catch the virus through your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Aerosol transmission- Aerosol transmission is when the virus travels through particles in the air to infect people. This transmission is most likely to occur indoors, and particularly in crowded spaces with a lack of ventilation.

What is really important that we understand about transmission is how this virus transmits, meaning how does this virus move from one individual to another?- Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

My Opinion- I think it is super important to educate yourself on how the virus spreads from person- to- person in order to avoid the situations in which transmission is most likely. Further, it is rather interesting to learn about how the virus enters your cells, and biologically infects your body.

I would love to hear your reactions or thoughts in the comments!

A New and Horrifying Effect of COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus has been terrorizing innocent people from all corners of the world. The symptoms and effects of the virus have proven to be devastating especially for young children and the elderly. If that wasn’t bad enough, scientists have recently discovered that COVID-19 is linked to erectile dysfunction.

Read More

Testing!

When you hear the word “COVID -19 testing” what comes to mind? I have this vivid image of a cotton swab being pushed up my nose. But what exactly is testing? Why is it so important? And what are the types of testing available for our use?

We’ve all heard that testing is important but why? To summarize a supplementary article, COVID testing “leads to quick identification of cases, quick treatment for those people and immediate isolation to prevent spread” (Dr. Eduardo Sanchez). When discovered at an early stage, COVID will be less a threat to a person because doctors can plan accordingly while COVID is still less severe. Even when a person discovers they have COVID not as early as hoped, testing helps to identify anyone who came into contact with infected people so they too can be quickly treated. Contact tracing would not be possible without testing because a person would never know if they are spreading the virus. The only way to be better safe than sorry is to get tested. Someone may show symptoms that are COVID-like but there is still a chance that it could be a common cold, or allergies. It is important to confirm COVID suspicion.

Now that we know why testing is important, what kind of testing is out there? What I found in this FDA article is what I like to call a family of tests; there are numerous different tests to take.

To start things off, let’s talk about Diagnostic testing. Diagnostic testing shows if you have an active coronavirus infection. As of right now, there are two types of diagnostic tests: molecular and antigen tests. Molecular tests detect the virus’ genetic material in a sample from the patient’s nose or throat. This is where test results will take longer because they are sent to labs. From there, the lab essentially converts the virus’s RNA into DNA, and then make millions of copies of the DNA to be processed in a machine. The test is “positive” for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Examples of molecular diagnostic tests include nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), RT-PCR test, and the LAMP test. Next, there is Antigen diagnostic testing. Antigen tests provide results from an active coronavirus infection faster than molecular tests. The downside to these tests are that they have a higher chance of missing an active infection. Sometimes an antigen test may come back negative, but a doctor might still order a molecular test to confirm.

Different from Diagnostic Tests, there are Antibody (different from Antigen) tests. These tests looks for antibodies that are made by your immune system in response to a threat, such as a specific virus. As we learned in biology class, antibodies can help fight infections. These tests are taken by finger stick or blood draw, and the results are quick. The antibody test only shows if you’ve been infected by coronavirus in the past. But do antibodies help diagnose COVID-19? As we learned in class about the Immune System, our body can fight pathogens, bacteria, and viruses that we have been previously exposed to. While this was a popular belief earlier on in the year, sadly, researchers do not know if the presence of antibodies means that you are immune to COVID-19 in the future. It is possible to contract COVID-19 for a second time, therefore adaptive immunity does not apply.

The most common testing that I knew of before researching was rapid testing. Rapid testing can be both a molecular or antigen diagnostic; a doctor uses a mucus sample from the nose or throat. The test can also be taken at home only by prescription of a doctor. The results are available in minutes. There is also saliva testing where a person can spit into a tube; this also keeps the doctor or worker safer from the potentially infected person.

Testing is the best way to keep yourself and those around you safe. While testing is still not 100% accurate, there is currently no better way to confirm if someone has COVID-19 unless he/she get tested. With this pandemic, we can never be too safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Protection by Different Face Masks

During the time of the Covid-19 pandemic we know that it is important to wear masks, but which ones? Different masks hold uniqueness, but ultimately are all used to protect you from airborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that your immune system would need help fighting. 

Although, the best way to prevent contracting Covid-19 is to isolation and social distancing, when in public settings it is important to have a face covering. One of the most common face covers that you will see are surgical masks. Surgical masks  are disposable, loose-fitting face covering that provide a separation between the nose and mouth with harmful particles that may be present in the surrounding air. When used properly, as stated by the FDA in an article named N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks, “a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others”. However, surgical masks have flaws, very small particles do not get filtered or blocked that you could be exposed by coughing, sneezing, or medical procedures. They are only designed for one use and can become damaged. As for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Covid-19, they do not completely block the virus from getting through, rather, reduce the magnitude that can pass through. Also, because of its loose-fitting design, there is a higher risk of harmful particles getting past the mask barrier through the open slots. Ultimately, surgical masks are one model of masks used to protect yourself from harmful particles in the air. 

 

Another type of mask seen throughout the pandemic is an N95 respirator. These face coverings, constructed with many layers of protection, are also used to protect you body from consuming harmful particles, but are designed with a more secure fit and effective filtration system, “that are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency, flammability and biocompatibility”.  Many people tend to feel more secure with a N95 respiratory mask because it also accommodates coating technologies to reduce or kill microorganisms. However, people with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions may have a more difficulty breathing with this mask and they are classified as single use to ensure maximum protection.

Lastly, another commonly seen mask are cloth masks. These masks are common due to its easy accessibility and their generally patterned designs. However, as stated by the CDC, these masks do not provide filtration as well as surgical masks or other respirators. Although they provide adequate protection from the virus, they are not permitted to be worn my healthcare workers. Ultimately, in the communal setting cloth face masks allow protection, when worn properly of course, and their protection level can vary depending on material, number of layers, design, etc., but surgical mask and respirators overall considered more protective.

 

Overall, the surgical mask and N95 respirator are two commonly found face covering that will give you protection against the pandemic. It is important to keep in mind that although our immune system provides us with innate immunity, a defense that is active immediately upon infections, and adaptive immunity, an acquired immunity of typically a slow response. Because adaptive immunity is a slower response, for the Covid-19 virus, it is typical to take around two weeks for your body to develop antigens. That being said, masks are a significant precaution against contracting the virus. Lastly, both of these masks are approved by the CDC and are seen in the medical field and in everyday life and can protect you from unwanted pathogens. 

 

 

 

LION: The King Of The COVID Vaccines

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as COVID-19) continues to rage across the world killing millions, more time, effort, and money is being put into researching the best vaccines to help bring the world back to a state of normalcy.  One such vaccine is being developed at the University of Washington using replicating RNA is called LION (Lipid InOrganic Nanoparticle). In its animal trials in July, the vaccine already found some success inducing “coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies” in mice young and old which has given researchers a lot of hope for the future of the vaccine.

 

One might wonder, why do we need a vaccine at all? Vaccines are used to expose your body to small doses of a virus or in this case by mRNA, which teaches your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus and makes memory cells. The next time you are exposed to the virus, your body will be able to produce the necessary antibodies to a much larger degree, much quicker, for longer so you will be protected from becoming sick.

One of the lead researchers on LION, Professor Deborah Fuller of the University of Washington School of Medicine qualified the goals of a successful COVID-19 vaccine saying it, “will ideally induce protective immunity after only a single immunization, avoid immune responses that could exacerbate virus-induced pathology, be amenable to rapid and cost-effective scale-up and manufacturing, and be capable of inducing immunity in all populations including the elderly who typically respond poorly to vaccines.” This is quite a lot to accomplish but LION lends itself very well to these goals, conquering most of the problems a typical DNA vaccine would have. DNA vaccines work by coding for the antigens which are then exposed to the immune system to create memory cells so the body can treat the virus later. The downsides of a DNA vaccine is sometimes those antigens fail to create an immune response or can even cause the cell to become cancerous when the DNA joins the host cells DNA, disrupting it. There is far less risk with RNA vaccines which occupy the cytoplasm and only interact with ribosomes.

Shown above us a basic drawing of what SARS-CoV-2 virus looks like.

LION is a replicating RNA vaccine, but how does replicating RNA work? RNA codes for spike proteins and ribosomes in the body make the necessary proteins. Replicating RNA allows for more spike proteins and ribosomes to be coded at a greater rate, which produces a greater number of proteins continuously while triggering “a virus-sensing stress response that encourages other immune activation.” For the vaccine the RNA replicates proteins that tell the body to reject the SARS-CoV-2 and attack them “with antibodies and T cells”  which stop the protein spikes on the virus from interfering with the cell. The development of B cells, which remember how to make the antibodies to fight the virus when infected again, as well as T cells is especially critical for the vaccine as they can develop immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 antigens. What makes the LION vaccine special is the nanoparticle it is named after which “enhances the vaccine’s ability to provoke the desired immune reaction, and also its stability.” This makes it more valuable than other vaccines of the same kind as it can achieve effective results with a longer shelf life. It can also be mixed simply using a two vial method as the mRNA component is made separately from the main vaccine formulation. For all these reasons, the scientists are optimistic as the vaccine goes into the next stages of testing that this vaccine could help provide a long term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 vaccines start becoming available to essential workers in the coming weeks and my father prepares to take one, it can be quite unnerving to think about all the potential negative side effects of the vaccine. These vaccines have been developed without the typical ten years of testing, so knowing more about the research behind the vaccines serves as a comfort me and many others. Our future is in these vaccines and research so knowing which we should invest our time and money in is always a good idea.

Meaningful Momentum or Mirage? The True Effect of The Covid-19 Pandemic on Our Environment – and How We Must Move Forward

During a time where everyone is forced to self-isolate inside, it may not feel very natural to think about the environment in which we live. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly affected the great outdoors for the better and (if reports are to be believed) the worse.

At first glance, it would be entirely logical to conclude that a decrease in travel and industrial production would lead to a significant boost in the health of the environment. According to the NIH, “the global disruption caused by […] COVID-19 has brought about several effects on the environment and climate. Due to movement restriction and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities, air quality has improved in many cities with a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world,” therefore allowing many governments to gain more momentum in their strides against climate change.

However, this positive sentiment is not shared by many high-ranking officials of NASA, who believe that the pandemic has put a pause on necessary procedures that served to improve our environment. As a result of social distancing and quarantine mandates, there “are far fewer intentional fires to boost biodiversity [the level of variety of life on Earth] and reduce fuel loads in the Southeast.” The lack of these fires is suspected to have impacted the region’s biodiversity by both eliminating habitats for eukaryotic organisms (organisms with nuclei) who thrive in fiery environments and polluting prokaryotic organisms (organisms without nuclei) with fuel (according to Ben Poulter, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Moreover, the positive effects of the pandemic on the environment may not even be sustainable. Per National Geographic, “daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent compared to last year [before the pandemic]. But as of June 11, new data show that they are only about 5 percent lower than at the same point in 2019, even though normal activity has not yet fully restarted.” This spike in carbon emissions could be due to both the government “favors” (such as tax breaks, regulatory rollbacks, and cash loans) offered to high-polluting industries in order to help them stay afloat during the pandemic and the fact that the lax quarantine restrictions in place have not been very effective in keeping people off of the road and in their homes. When these two developments are taken into account, the state of our world during the pandemic looks rather grim.

The theory that the so-called “improvement” in our environment’s health may be very short lived is also supported by data concerning former Covid-19 patients. A new study discussed by Healthline reveals that “people who recover from even mild cases of COVID-19 produce antibodies that are believed to protect against infection for at least 5 to 7 months, and could last much longer” (For context, antibodies are blood proteins produced by Plasma B Cells that combat viruses that invade the body. The production of antibodies is part of the body’s Humoral Immune response.). While this is great news for healthcare workers who must deal with the disease firsthand, it has dangerous implications for former Covid-19 patients who may use their newfound “immunity” to resume life as normal, which could undo the minimal environmental progress that our country has made.

Despite this backslide, it is still possible to ameliorate the damage done to the environment after the pandemic ends. The chief editors of Scientific American argue that while the pandemic has “barely made a dent in climate change,” our environmental plight has shown us a way forward: using our newfound free time to fight for justice and equality for marginalized groups that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “The pandemic has not only aggravated the stark inequities and injustices [against minorities], [but] the mass unemployment it has generated has also given millions of Americans the motivation and opportunity to express their outrage. Their impassioned protests against systemic racism may be essential to moving the U.S. to a more equitable and sustainable future. Change is in the air.” While it may appear unorthodox to equate climate change activism with social justice advocacy, it’s entirely possible that they’re one and the same, as evidenced by the social and environmental reforms proposed by the Green New Deal. Consolidating these two fights against the exploitations of nature and humans may prove to be a viable path forward in the coming months.

Overall, while it’s possible that the pandemic’s improvement of our environment was a false mirage, we can make that imagined progress real by campaigning for all forms of justice, whether it’s environmental or societal.

Restaurants: A COVID-19 Hotspot

After spending months locked in our homes, eager for social interaction, you may find yourself wanting to justify grabbing a quick bite with a friend despite the risk of COVID-19. However, this MIT Technology Review article proves that not only are restaurants the riskiest location when it comes to the coronavirus, but you are actually four times more likely to catch the virus in a restaurant than in the gym, which is the second most dangerous location.

Safegraph, a company that collects anonymous location data from smartphones, curated a team of epidemiologists, computer scientists, and social scientists from Stanford University and Northwestern University. Together, Safegraph and their new team used smartphone data to predict and understand where most people were catching COVID-19. To do this, researchers tracked nearly 100 million people through their phones in 10 of the biggest US cities from March 1 to May 1, collecting the movements of people going to gyms, grocery stores, restaurants, places of worship, etc. 

After accumulating this smartphone data, they used it to predict the level of risk each location had based on three categories: “how big the venue was, how long people stayed inside it, and how many people were likely to be infectious in the given area.” After comparing their predictions to the official records of cases, it was proven that their new prediction model was accurate. Like one may have already guessed: the smaller the venue is, the longer people stay inside it, and the larger the number of people inside the venue are all of the factors that make a location more dangerous when it comes to catching COVID-19.

Epidemiology has proved that the three factors stated above make someone more susceptible to getting COVID-19 because the virus spreads most prominently through respiratory droplets. These droplets can be spread through breathing, talking, eating, etc. In restaurants, people don’t wear masks, allowing these respiratory droplets to infect everyone around them, as they can land on surfaces as well as drift through the air. Another danger with restaurants and not wearing a mask is being asymptomatic: unknowingly contracting the virus, having no symptoms, and then going to restaurants, where you take your mask off, allowing the virus to spread to all those around you. 

Eating, talking, breathing, and possibly even laughing are almost all guaranteed when going out to eat. However, those are all the primary methods by which respiratory droplets spread. 

If you acquire an asymptomatic or mild coronavirus case, research suggests that your immune system works the same as it normally would for other viruses. When you come in contact with COVID-19, your innate immune system immediately reacts; it is the first line of defense in your immune system and releases a rapid response. This quick response is nonspecific, meaning that it is recognized as simply a pathogen, with minimal specifics. As that rapid response begins, your adaptive immunity begins to develop and form antibodies to fight the specific virus you are infected with. Because this response is more specific to the virus you have, it is also slower acting, which is why viruses take days or weeks to recover from. 

Anyway, going back to the research: Using this new prediction model, the research team simulated different restaurant situations, such as 10% capacity, 50% capacity, and even full capacity. The model suggested that implementing a 20% maximum capacity in restaurants would cut infection rates by 80%. However, from an economic standpoint, a 20% maximum capacity would result in a likely loss of 42% of customers during “peak hours.”

So, it is crucial to think about what is more important: minimizing infection rates or keeping businesses alive? Personally, I think it is necessary to find a balance where people can stay safe, and businesses can remain open, especially small ones. Restaurants have already begun thinking of safe and innovative ways to dine. For example, a restaurant in NYC has an outdoor patio with large, private pods where groups of people can eat out without exposure to the people around them. Though even this system has its loopholes and issues, it is a step in the right direction. 

Will you be going out to eat this week? 

The Reoccurring Virus?

The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes Covid-19, which is more notoriously known as the coronavirus, has been deemed by some to be one of the worst pandemics ever seen. With over 13.5 million cases and over 200 thousand deaths, the pandemic has taken the world by storm. In an article, Jop de Vrieze speaks on a topic that is of concern in regards to the subsiding of this virus, the topic of reinfection.

In our body, antibodies are our natural defenders. These antibodies are part of the body’s adaptive response to pathogens. Generally, B Lymphocytes(B cells) binds to an antigen and recognize it. T-Helper cells then cause the selected B cells to divide into B-Plasma cells and B-Memory cells. The B-Plasma cells then secrete antibodies which bind to the pathogen and then neutralize it, allowing Macrophages to engulf and destroy the antibody-covered pathogen. B-Memory cells help the cell be able to remember the pathogen, ultimately preventing reinfections. Antibodies are defined by Mayo Clinic as “proteins produced by your immune system in response to an infection. Your immune system — which involves a complex network of cells, organs and tissues — identifies foreign substances in your body and helps fight infections and diseases.” When you contract the virus, your body develops these antibodies that can help provide protection. But there’s a catch. The CDC says that ” we do not know how much protection the antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last,” which opens up the possibility for reinfection.

Specific to de Vrieze’s article, a man in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus in March and tested positive again in August, becoming the first official reinfection case. Neurologists have, reasonably, expected much milder symptoms from reinfection cases, but that hasn’t been the case for some. As the CDC stated, the amount of protection and the protection’s longevity is still a big question. The leading case in de Vrieze’s article was that of Sanne de Jong. After having the virus and mild symptoms in Mid-April, she tested negative in May and then tested positive again in June. What is so special about her “reinfection” case is that when her virus samples were taken, they were very similar. This is of significance because it correlates to another, yet more unlikely, theory mentioned in the article. When the article was written, “no proof exists of mutations that would make the virus more pathogenic or that might help the virus evade immunity. But a recent preprint by a team at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle suggests one may exist. The team describes a person who was infected in March and reinfected four months later. The second virus had a mutation common in Europe that causes a slight change in the virus’ spike protein, which helps it break into human cells. Although symptoms were milder the second time, neutralization experiments showed antibodies elicited by the first virus did not work well against the second, the authors note, ‘which could have important implications for the success of vaccine programs.'”
The possibility of reinfection is rare but is still very possible. And other mysteries of the coronavirus are still present. Here is my advice: Play it safe. With the uncertainty and danger surrounding the virus, the best thing we can do is prevent the spread and protect ourselves and others. The need for concern can pass if we are simply patient.

Testing For The Virus That Changed Our Lives

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, has changed our daily lives completely. Doctors and researchers have been working endlessly to figure out how to put a stop to its spread and get us back to our normal ways of life. Getting tested for COVID-19 is an extremely helpful way to further our knowledge of the virus and prevent it from spreading.

In order to prevent the spread of the virus, we must be able to track it. Researchers have found a way to test for COVID-19 through diagnostic tests. The tests are performed by healthcare personnels at clinics or doctors’ offices, with specific kits. The head is tilted back at a 70 degree angle and a swab is inserted inside the nostril, sometimes both, to collect the cells from the back of the nose. The swab is inserted to absorb the cells and then put into a sterile tube to be sent to a laboratory. There, a PCR test is performed and the cells are examined.

You might ask, “how does the test work?” In simple terms, the virus’ RNA is made up of thousands of nucleotides. Researchers have developed a PCR test, in which it looks for the virus’ DNA, within a person’s cells. Since the virus does not have DNA but rather has RNA, a RT-PCR test is needed to test for the disease. The RT-PCR test consists of various “reverse transcription polymerase chain reactions” where the RNA of the virus is transcribed into “complimentary DNA” that is used in the PCR test. The nucleic acids of a person’s cells are taken from the swab they were tested with, and replicated millions of times to be examined. The DNA is processed by a PCR instrument to see if the genes of the virus is within the human cell. 

SARS-CoV-2 has a surface made up of spike proteins. The spike proteins attach to a receptor on the surface of a human cell and fuses through the membrane. This is how it passes through its first line of defenses and enters respiratory epithelial cells lined on the respiratory tract, making it a respiratory virus. Once the virus is inside of the cell, it releases its RNA and is encoded, thus replicating itself. From there, the dendritic cells work to get a defense reaction from the immune system. 

When the pandemic had recently started, there were very limited tests available. The CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged that only people with symptoms or people who have had high exposure to a person who tested positive be tested. Symptoms include a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. It was later found that people were testing positive for COVID-19 who had no symptoms, or had high exposure to it. This pushed researchers to develop more tests due to the fact that the virus was spread easier than they initially thought. Now there have been millions of tests shipped out, and more people are able to get tested. This is prevents the virus from spreading through people who do not know they have it. It also allows researchers to get a more accurate number of positive cases. The development of test kits and PCR testing has been extremely successful, even though there have been some inaccurate results. 

When do you think we will be able to return to our normal lives?

Santa isn’t bringing coal this year, he’s bringing Covid!! How to stay safe this winter.

Some feel that the Christmas spirit isn’t floating in the air this holiday season, but rather fear of the corona virus, and how it will be handled this winter. With temperatures dropping as fast as these store prices on sale, many worry how will the U.S stop cases from spiking as much as it did earlier this year? Don’t miss out on your favorite blogger Monoseanarides’ holiday special.

Spread (Overview)-

SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus that spreads in multiple different ways. The virus can be spread through small particles or respiratory droplets (ex. aerosols created by the cough, sneeze, speech, and breaths of a Covid-infected patient). Once these particles are in the air, they are inhaled through the mouth or nose and enter the lungs and airways which is believed to be the most common form of infection. Droplet particles that have landed on surfaces can cause the virus to spread by touch. Once someone has touched an infected surface the disease can spread to them by touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. Spread by touch is not a primary way of transmission. When spending time with someone who has not been tested you should not be within 6 feet or 2 arms lengths of the person. Something to look out for during this pandemic is Community Spread. This is a term coined for an area where multiple people are infected with the virus and not everyone knows where the virus was contracted from. To inquire on whether or not there is a local community spread near you contact your local health department’s website. There are still a lot of questions regarding the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus including whether or not warm weather slows down the spread of the virus, and cold weather periods are where the virus spreads most like the flu virus? There is still a lot of research to be done on the virus and there is no permanent answer, but it is safe to assume that cases will start to spike again during the winter because that is when sicknesses like the flu spread best. Another question frequently asked is whether or not the virus can be spread through mosquitos and ticks like other illnesses such as the Zika virus or Lyme Disease. As of now there has been no evidence proving that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be spread from person to person through the bite of a mosquito or a tick.

Spread (A closer look)

For all my crazy biology fans like me no need to worry I’m going to explain to you guys how the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects healthy cells. When a SARS-Cov-2 virus enters your body it latches onto one of your healthy cells’ receptors using its spiked protein surface, it usually latches to a healthy cell in the lungs. The viral proteins latch through the ACE2 receptors. The virus then travels down your respiratory tract to your lower airway where the most ACE2 receptors are present. This can cause your lungs to swell, which can make it harder to breathe. These complications can often lead to pneumonia. Once pneumonia is formed patients go into ARDS, however this only occurs in severe cases.

How the body responds-

Normally when a virus enters the body the automatic response mechanism used is innate immunity. Innate immunity is a defense activated immediately after infection. Innate Immunity is the first and second lines of defense because it is a rapid response. After the innate immunity is activated the adaptive immunity is activated. This response is slower because its job is to fight off any extra infected cells and memorize the virus so that the body is prepared for another infection. It has been seen with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (usually in older people) that cytokine storms occur when parts of the immune system overwork or works harder than other parts of the immune system.

Could Rapid Testing Be the Key to Beating COVID-19?

A study published by University of Colorado Boulder and Harvard University researchers, states that rapid tests could help the world come close to eliminating COVID-19. The study focused on whether sensitivity of the tests, or turnaround times of getting the results is more important. By using mathematical formulas, different scenarios and three locations (a 10,000 person population, a university setting and in a large city) they came to conclude that when trying to slow the spread, frequency of testing and turnaround time is more important than the sensitivity of the test.

It is important to note the difference between the PCR test and the rapid antigen test. A PCR test, which uses polymerase chain reaction technology (hence the name) to detect traces of the virus’ genetic material. A rapid antigen test does not trace the genetic material but instead looks for specific proteins on the surface of the virus, known as antigens. A PCR test can detect one SARS-CoV-2 RNA molecule for a positive test result, the rapid antigen test needs thousands of virus particles for a positive test result. An antigen is present on the outside of a pathogen. In adaptive response to pathogens, dendritic cells place these antigens on display. The antigens are what allows the T-helper cells to recognize the antigen and trigger the cell mediated and humoral response. Therefore, if your body is fighting against COVID-19, the antigens would be displayed on cells and the rapid test may recognize them.

In one of the scenarios a large city had widespread rapid testing two times a week and they reduced the infections by 80% compared to widespread PCR testing done two times a week that only reduced infection by 58%. This scenario shows that because two thirds of infected people do not show symptoms as they wait for their results they are not quarantining. If people receive the positive tests results sooner, they can self-isolate sooner.

People have felt hesitant about rapid testing since it is less accurate than PCR testing and may miss cases where levels of infected particles are too low. However, it has been shown that there is a short time period where PCR testing will show a positive, and rapid tests won’t. This is because infected particles can go from 5,000 to 1 million in less than 24 hours. During this short window of time it is also likely that the patient is not contagious yet. 

Personally, I think that having more accessible rapid tests will be a huge help to curbing the virus. Even with less sensitivity, if a person tests positive then they self-isolate up to up to 48 hours quicker, if tests results take longer, then even more. This means that less people will get infected. I know that when family members have gotten tested, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, tests took 5 days when the labs were backed up. If they had not been properly quarantined during the 5 days, this could pose a danger to others. Therefore, I think that the accuracy can be put aside for the speed of the test results.

So, what do you think? Is rapid testing the inexpensive, fast, key piece to curbing the infection rate, or is the accuracy of tests more important?

Page 1 of 54

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar