What you may not know about the coronavirus

Illustration by Maya Winshell

Since the new strain of coronavirus began to spread, the search for information has been on. Despite the amount of studies regularly being released, misinformation spreads with ease. Certainly, COVID-19 has left even the best of medical professionals puzzled. Here are some components of the COVID-19 pandemic that you may not be familiar with.

Origin of the virus disputed

Ever since the first reported cluster cases of pneumonia-like symptoms in Wuhan, China, doubt has grown around the COVID-19 virus’s origin. Chinese officials announced suspicions that the virus was transmitted from wild animals to a group of symptomatic people linked to the Huanan Wholefood Seafood Market. Upon further investigation by the World Health Organization (WHO), there was no link found between the market and the early cases of COVID-19.

According to a study from the Scripps Research Institute, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, “resembled related viruses found in bats and pangolins,” and there is no evidence that the virus was engineered.

Other countries where the virus could have originated from have come into focus. The University of Barcelona gathered a collection of sewage samples which found SARS-CoV-2 traces dating back to March 2019, long before China declared the first COVID-19 case. However, the study has received much criticism due to not being independently confirmed. 

WHO reported in a statement from July that they are investigating the origin of COVID-19 through “animal reservoirs and the route of transmission to humans.” Undoubtedly, this research will develop over time and is likely to bring more answers about the virus to light.

COVID-19 can display unique symptoms

Initially, COVID-19 was compared to the common cold with similar symptoms such as fever, dry cough, headache and sore throat. When the number of cases grew, so did the list of symptoms and their abnormalities. Unique symptoms include blood clots, heart enlargement, extreme lung damage and pink eye. 

The most infamous of them all is colloquially called “COVID toes.” Dr. Esther Freeman, director of the COVID-19 Dermatology Registry, said infected patients may see discoloration, burning, itching or pink, red or purple lesions on the toes or hands. Despite the obscurity of these symptoms, they could soon be a standard sign in the detection of COVID-19.

Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine proven ineffective against COVID-19

At the beginning of the pandemic, the now-infamous malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine had some people feeling optimistic. During a roundtable meeting, President Trump even claimed that he started to take it. However, numerous studies and medical journals have now reported that the treatment does more harm than good. The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported its adverse effects, such as low blood sugar, physical immobility, psychosis, hallucinations and severe skin reactions. 

Blood treatment also disappoints in treating COVID-19

Medical professionals felt hopeful about convalescent blood plasma treatment in the face of many ineffective experimental treatments. Doctors transfuse blood from those previously infected who have antibodies in their plasma into people who are currently infected. 

Dr. Louise Dyjur, the executive director of Acute Care Services Line at Providence St. Mary’s Medical Center and Southeast Washington’s Regional Research Lead, found promising results during her work on the frontlines.

“There is emerging evidence,” Dyjur said. “The initial results were promising, but it is falling out of favor now.”

Blood plasma has been proven safe and effective for other disease treatments, so the risk is low though the procedure is fairly invasive. However, later on, the treatment was found to show marginal improvement for most COVID-19 patients, though it has helped some.

Antiviral drug shows hope in lessening effects of COVID-19

Remdesivir is an antiviral medication that received emergency authorization from the FDA in August. 

“(Remdesivir) is the only drug treatment (proven) to be beneficial,” Dyjur said. The National Institute of Health (NIH) launched a trial in April that showed an accelerated recovery period from COVID-19. The average time period of recovery using Remdesivir was 11 days, compared to 15 days using other treatments. 

Dyjur also mentioned another treatment that could be effective: dexamethasone, an anti-inflammatory drug. According to a National Institute of Health study, dexamethasone benefits were most evident in ventilated patients. However, its benefits were unapparent for patients who did not require ventilation. 

With the death count in the U.S. lingering near 200,000, Dyjur said the new coronavirus is unusual and not easily compared to other viruses. There are still many questions remaining, especially as doctors around the world are working nonstop to create a vaccine.

Push for a vaccine by November shows doubt

There are 321 COVID-19 vaccine candidates as of Sept. 3, 2020, with 33 of the candidates ready for clinical trials, according to a journal publication in Nature Reviews Drug Discovery. WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the Gates Foundation have helped fund the trials with the understanding that it may take several vaccines to stop the steady spread of the virus.

AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, announced their recruitment of 30,000 adult volunteers for vaccine trials on Aug. 31. However, during Phase 3 of the trial, one participant experienced adverse effects. AstraZeneca ceased further trialing on Sept. 8. As of Sept. 12, the trials have continued with Astrazeneca adding 14,000 more participants.

In the U.S., contention arises around a ready vaccine due to Trump’s push to have one available before the 2020 general election on Nov. 3. Many companies and federal regulators have demanded that the federal government follow the science. 81% of adults do not think a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus will be ready before the election, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health poll. In a CNN interview, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris clapped back at Trump in that she “would not trust Donald Trump, and it would have to be a credible source of information that talks about the efficacy and the reliability of whatever he’s talking about.”

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