What does the coronavirus do to your body?
What does the coronavirus do to your body? Everything to know about the infection process
A visual guide of coronavirus infection, symptoms of COVID-19 and the effects of the virus inside the body, in graphics
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across the U.S. – canceling major events, closing schools, upending the stock market and disrupting travel and normal life – Americans are taking precautions against the new coronavirus that causes the disease sickening and killing thousands worldwide.
The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise the public be watchful for fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, symptoms that follow contraction of the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
From infection, it takes approximately five to 12 days for symptoms to appear. Here’s a step-by-step look at what happens inside the body when it takes hold.
According to the CDC, the virus can spread person-to-person within 6 feet through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
It’s also possible for the virus to remain on a surface or object, be transferred by touch and enter the body through the mouth, nose or eyes.
Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, senior physician in the Infectious Diseases Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, said there’s still a lot to learn but experts suspect the virus may act similarly to SARS-CoV from 13 years ago.
“It’s a respiratory virus and thus it enters through the respiratory tract, we think primarily through the nose,” he said. “But it might be able to get in through the eyes and mouth because that’s how other respiratory viruses behave.”
When the virus enters the body, it begins to attack.
Fever, cough and other COVID-19 symptoms
It can take two to 14 days for a person to develop symptoms after initial exposure to the virus, Hirsch said. The average is about five days.
Once inside the body, it begins infecting epithelial cells in the lining of the lung. A protein on the receptors of the virus can attach to a host cell’s receptors and penetrate the cell. Inside the host cell, the virus begins to replicate until it kills the cell.
This first takes place in the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nose, mouth, larynx and bronchi.
The patient begins to experience mild version of symptoms: dry cough, shortness of breath, fever and headache and muscle pain and tiredness, comparable to the flu.
Dr. Pragya Dhaubhadel and Dr. Amit Munshi Sharma, infectious disease specialists at Geisinger, say some patients have reported gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and diarrhea, however it’s relatively uncommon.
Symptoms become more severe once the infection starts making its way to the lower respiratory tract.