Its biology, disease, cure and call for united action
By Swami Muktidanandaji, President, Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, Mysuru
We have to first understand the simple structure of a typical cell briefly. Then even as laymen, we can understand how the structure of Coronavirus is different from a typical cell. It is a common man’s understanding and knowledge of Coronavirus which is the key to implementation of preventive measures and solutions.
“Protoplasm is the physical basis of life” is the fundamental concept of cell biology and life science as defined by Thomas Huxley, an English biologist and anthropologist. The cell content within the cell membrane is called protoplasm. The matrix residing within the cell membrane and outside the centrally located nucleus is called cytoplasm. So, cytoplasm with organelles and nucleus containing the genetic material (DNA) are the constituents of protoplasm.
Virus as a bridge between the living and non-living
Virus, an unusual primitive parasitic entity, has both living and non-living characteristics. It is a mysterious invisible, non-living, micro-crystal or dust particle when outside the living host. But it assumes life soon after it enters a living host. Therefore, it is an obligatory parasite. It has neither cytoplasm nor cell organelles. It has only genetic material, either DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat. Therefore, the virus is considered as a bridge between the living and the non-living.
Understanding the nature of Coronavirus
This Coronavirus is a virus belonging to the family Coronaviridae. It is opined that the original reservoir of this virus is a non-human host, horse-shoe bat from which it jumped to humans. This Coronavirus emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has spread all over the world in a short period. This epidemic is now known as COVID-19 and the virus is known as SARS-CoV-2. The virus is a mutant variety of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Coronavirus. This non-living micro dust-like form of the virus is transmitted between people through respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Structure of the Coronavirus
This Coronavirus is a spherical, single-stranded RNA (genetic material) virus with a protein coat. It has corona like extensions called spike proteins on its surface. Hence, the name Coronavirus. These spike proteins bind to the receptors on the host cell. It is called Novel Coronavirus (nCoV) because of these spike proteins which are different from those of other Coronaviruses.
Fast replication process once it enters the host
In general, Coronavirus swiftly multiplies once it enters the living host. Its RNA replicates after entering the host and produces multiple copies of itself. These RNA particles get themselves covered by protein coats and then come out of the host cells only to infect new cells.
During infection, they enter through the mouth or nostrils through respiratory droplets, make their way into the bronchial tract and lungs gradually and multiply in the alveoli of the lungs. This reduces the expanding and contracting mechanism of the alveoli leading to fibrosis of the lung. As a result, the function of our oxygen supplying organ, the lung, gets badly mutilated and respiration gets hindered making us unable to breathe. This results in the shortage of oxygen supply to the brain and the entire body and the patient dies.
Why Coronavirus is so lethal and fast spreading?
How to break this protein coat of the virus and paralyse its RNA when it is in the non-living form outside the host and in a living form inside the host is a matter of research. Of course, its duration of life outside the host is very limited to the extent of 3 or 4 days, especially in a tropical hot climate like India where the relative humidity is also higher.
It is believed that a type of white blood cells called the Natural Killer cells (NK cells) which are a component of our innate immunity and which resist any pathogen as the first line of defence are not very effective against these viruses. People may be sick with the virus for 1 – 14 days before developing symptoms.
The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, tiredness, and excessive drowsiness. In severe cases, breathing will be difficult. If not contained, it can be fatal, particularly in individuals with co-morbid health conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic diseases of heart, lungs, kidneys and liver and infants.
Since the Coronavirus is spread through respiratory droplets, it is advised not to touch the nose and mouth as these viruses stay on the surface of hand in a viable state for quite a long time. Also, it is advised to wash the hands thoroughly with soap and sanitisers.
Prevention of COVID-19: Scientific & social approach
Our body’s immune system is yet to develop a new strategy to counter this virus and there is no medicine available at this point of time. The greater challenge is to find a way to deactivate this RNA of Coronavirus when it enters the human body, by our defence mechanism or by antibiotics or in developing a vaccine.
Since it is fast spreading through the human agency, the epidemic has now become a pandemic killing human beings so fast, not yielding to any known medical system. Realising the magnitude of the epidemic, the Government of India has decided that the only way to prevent this epidemic is by making humans not accessible to it by social distancing. People affected by Coronavirus have to be isolated in quarantine. Thus, the virus chain has to be broken so that it perishes being deprived of the host for a considerable period.
Social distancing is the only Mantra
Social distancing and staying at home are the only two ways to flatten the curve. If we see the extent of devastation caused by Coronavirus in developed countries like Italy, China, Spain, UK, America, and other countries, India, with not so developed medical infrastructure and habitual group-living in cities and slums, especially in villages, needs to be extra vigilant and cautious. Our national lockdown may have to be inevitably continued for some more reasonable time and all of us have to educate ourselves and ignorant masses about the preventive measures more aggressively and convincingly.
Need for basic existential solidarity
It is time that we Indians have to demonstrate that we are all solidly-united transcending the barriers of caste, creed, religious customs and traditions to protect our country and the world. Let us pray intensely for the well-being of all. Let us invoke the noble and powerful survival instinct and motherly caring instinct hidden in all of us.
Let us work together constructively, lovingly as Indians. This feeling of unity, amity, and love for each other is needed now to keep COVID-19 pandemic away. This should be our religion, throb of life, the wave of mind and line of action.
The famous French surgeon and Nobel Laureate, Dr. Alexis Carrel, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912 says, “Prayer is the most powerful form of energy one can generate. As a physician, I have seen the patients coming out of melancholy and disease by the serene efforts of prayer.”
Our united and the sincere cry of the soul shall be heard by the Almighty, the Omniscient, and Spiritual Consciousness which has created and is sustaining this universe. Let our patriotism, universal brotherhood and unity find its true expression in this hour of worst crisis.
Let the scientific capability of the West and the spiritual capability of the East come together and work reciprocally to fight out this pandemic. If all of us work with honesty as per scientifically-defined line of action, we shall not only conquer this Coronavirus disaster but shall also create a new eco-friendly, clean and a spiritually vibrant world of understanding, friendship and love.