What distinguishes the new coronavirus? How do you study it? Will we have a vaccine soon? UNAB researcher answers these and other questions

What distinguishes the new coronavirus? How do you study it? Will we have a vaccine soon? UNAB researcher answers these and other questions

The new type of CORONAvirus SARS-CoV-2 is present today in 104 countries, with nearly 110 thousand cases worldwide and ten confirmed in Chile to date. TheWorld Health Organizationand thehealth authorities in the country have widely disseminated the action plan, protocols and measures to address the expansion of this virus that has not been identified in humans until now.

In addition, the official information available makes it possible to know the type of transmission (from person to person), form of contagion, signs and symptoms, most vulnerable population,prevention actions, among other relevant data, such asclarification of mythsthat begin to emerge.

In a global scenario of high expectation saheency for the progress of this situation, the researcher at theInstitute of Biomedical Sciences (ICB)Andrés Bello University and expert in virology,Dr. Gloria Arriagada, gives us additional information about this new virus, its study and projections of possible treatment.

What kind of virus is SARS-CoV-2, causing COVID-19? What distinguishes it from other, better-known coronaviruses and viruses?

SARS-CoV-2 is part of the betacoronavirus genus, including, for example, the human coronavirus OC43, widely distributed globally and which could cause 10-15% of common colds. These two viruses differ in which receptor they recognize to bind to a cell, which can affect what type of cells it binds to and how strongly it binds. Unlike rhinoviruses (which produce the common cold) whose genome is small,these viruses have a very large genome; they contain much more genetic information and have multiple regulatory points for replication, evasion of the cell protection system and the ability to damage them.

Unlike rhinoviruses, which are covered by proteins, coronaviruses also have a lipid membrane that causes them to quickly inactivate when dried, with alcohol, chlorine, heat and UV radiation. Howeverwith respect to other coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has greater affinity for its receptor, which means that it binds better to the one who opens the gateway to the cell and thus have a higher chance of infecting.

How does the virus operate once it enters the body? How does it cause disease?

Initially these viruses infect epithelial cells of the respiratory tracts causing damage to the cells.There are still not enough reports to explain the mechanism of pathogenesis (how the disease occurs after infection), or why in some individuals the symptoms are of a common cold and in others of pneumonia that can lead to death. In this sense, more research is needed on this.

Once the virus was discovered, how is it studied and what can be known about it? There are still several relevant aspects on which there is no certainty.

Over the years we have learned several lessons regarding different epidemics and pandemics that allow us to be better prepared to study and detect those that are appearing and that will appear in the future.

Something that happened with theZika virusis that it was very difficult to obtain an accurate diagnostic test, and this came very late in the epidemic, with the terrible consequences for thousands of children born with microcephaly or eye disorders.We now know what was done wrong there and that's why, with the high ability to sequence genomes globally and comparisons with the sequence of other coronaviruses available in the databases, a test was quickly developed to diagnose presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 in a person in a short time.

It is important to develop a successful diagnosis to differentiate from a cold produced by other viruses or influenza, thus quickly avoiding contact with populations most likely to develop respiratory syndrome. This is the fastest thing to study today.

In addition, the article published on March 3, indicating that there would be two variants of the virus, suggests that one of them could be associated with a more severe syndrome. With that information,you could design a second diagnosis to know what type of coronavirus a person has, and be prepared to better cope with the possible evolution of a patient who has the version that is associated with the greatest severity.

As this is a virus from a known family it was already known which receptor it could bind to, and as it infects a cell, then it became easier to quickly start studying other aspects, like why it infects humans best. If it had been a very little studied or undescribed virus previously, any study would be slower.

How soon could you count on a treatment or vaccine?

Knowing which parts of the virus are essential you can start designing antiviral drugs, or faster, test existing ones and attack similar parts in other viruses.Drugs designed against Ebola and other antivirals are currently being tested to verify their effectiveness, butso far in critical cases, respiratory support and good control of opportunistic bacterial infections, which aggravate the respiratory picture, is what is being recommended.

On an eventual vaccine, this is certainly possible in the medium term. We already know what is essential about the virus and there are several groups with the ability to quickly start testing different versions in animal models and then in humans. But I don't think it's possible for us to actually see something on the market in less than two years.Consideration should be given to the possibility that, as was the case with Zika, we may have apeakinfections worldwide and then let's not know more about the virus, so

the important thing is that research is done to develop an effective and low-cost vaccine, and that, if achieved, all people receive it and not be partially used in the population by the influence of anti-vaccine groups, for example, as this implies less Effectiveness.

In the meantime, it is important that preventive measures, which are the same that should be constantly taken before the multiple agents that cause respiratory diseases, are maintained by the population and that we should all have as part of our life Normal.

Any conclusions that may stand out in the wake of the outbreak in Wuhan?

The fact that we are invading spaces that were exclusive to wildlife, eliminating the habitat of animals that now approach areas where humans and their pets or pets live, using exotic animals such as pets and food, keeping them overcrowded and in contact with species with which they do not normally live - like us - is a very high risk factor for new zoonoses that could lead to diseases in humans that potentially turn into epidemics or pandemics.

The same with travel;we have so many possibilities to travel quickly to many places, that it is very easy, as we have seen, to move an infection from a city, a country or even from one continent to another. This new coronavirus is just one example of the multiple infectious agents that have traveled either by infected humans or by the movement of the animals that transmit them, such as mosquitoes.

Source: noticias.unab.cl