When the novel coronavirus, SARS-Co-2, which causes COVID-19, began to spread, we didn’t know what to expect. It quickly became obvious that COVID-19 was a serious infection. It also turned out that severe COVID-19 is viral sepsis.
Coronaviruses themselves are not new and for the most part, they aren’t usually serious. The common cold is a coronavirus, for example. But so are more serious infections, like SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome). What these infections all have in common is their symptoms: coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and fever. When a new coronavirus is identified, it’s called a novel coronavirus until it’s given an official name.
What makes this coronavirus special?
COVID-19, first discovered in China in December 2019, was a new virus with no known previous history. Scientists had to scramble to find the virus origins, how it behaved, and what might kill it or prevent it from spreading. Although it had similar symptoms to seasonal influenza, SARS, MERS, and other illnesses, COVID-19 was not the same. And because it was a new virus, scientists had a lot to learn about the infection.
Since the spread of COVID-19 began, new mutations of the virus began to circulate. This is not unusual. As viruses spread and contaminate more people, they often mutate as well. There are several COVID-19 virus mutations.
How serious is COVID-19?
The short answer is “it is very serious.” While many people who contract the virus experience mild to moderate symptoms of coughing, shortness of breath, and fever, this coronavirus affects some people harder than others, causing severe cases of pneumonia. This could lead to viral sepsis and result in death.
Some children who contract COVID-19 also develop a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C). It occurs when “different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs,” according to the CDC.
On September 21, 2020, the American Medical Association added the following to their website: “Surviving severe COVID-19 means surviving viral sepsis. And while there is little published data on long-term outcomes of severe COVID-19, what is known is that recovering from sepsis caused by other pathogens is a long and difficult process that includes, among other things, increased odds of cognitive impairment and functional limitations—even down to inability to bathe, toilet or dress independently.”
Are sepsis survivors at higher risk of COVID-19 infection?
Overall, sepsis survivors are at risk of contracting infections within a few months of their recovery. This would include any infection, including COVID-19. However, there is no scientific literature yet that shows a connection between surviving sepsis and developing the new coronavirus.
Many people who contract COVID-19 recover without any further medical problems. However, some survivors don’t recover completely and experience continuing or new physical and mental ailments. This has been called “long COVID” by many. The CDC lists many health issues that COVID-19 survivors may face.
Testing for COVID-19
If you have any signs of COVID-19 (cough, fever, shortness of breath) and you have reason to believe you were in contact with someone who was recently in an infected area or is showing signs of illness too, speak with your doctor.
The consensus is that COVID-19 is spread through aerosol and droplets in the air. But the infections may also be contracted by touching an object that has the virus on it. Therefore, the best way to reduce your risk of infection is by wearing masks when you can’t stay more than 6 feet away from others, getting a COVID-19 vaccine, and thorough and complete hand washing with soap and water, using a hand sanitizer when you’re not near a sink, and avoiding touching your face (including your eyes) when you are outside.
If you have any type of infection, including a respiratory virus like COVID-19, isolate yourself from others to prevent spreading the virus. Rest as much as you can and monitor your progress. If you get worse or show any signs of sepsis, go to your local emergency room or call 911.
Scientists all over the world began working on a vaccine for COVID-19 almost as soon as the virus was identified. Unlike other vaccine development, which is done in solitary labs over long periods, researchers collaborated with one another, sharing findings. This sped up what they knew about the virus and possible angles to use as a vaccine. Researchers also used an approach that is new to the public, but not to scientists: mRNA technology.
This technology has been studied for several years, according to the CDC. Unlike other vaccines that carry live weakened or dead viruses, mRNA vaccines allow the body’s cells to make proteins that trigger an immune response to the COVID-19 virus. This helps the immune system create antibodies against the virus.
There are some misconceptions related to mRNA technology, one being that it changes a person’s DNA. This is not possible. The advantage to an mRNA vaccine is that it can be produced and adapted quickly to new variants, if necessary. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech was first out of the gate with its 2-step vaccine, closely followed by Moderna, also with a 2-step vaccine.
Other vaccines use other technologies. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is made from a virus, an adenovirus, that causes colds. When it is injected, the body creates an immune response, so if the recipient is exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19, it should recognize the virus as an intruder and defend the body against it. It is also a 2-step vaccine.
Johnson & Johnson approached its vaccine development in a similar way to the Oxford-AstraZeneca product. But, the J&J vaccine requires only one dose.
The U.S. now has these approved COVID-19 vaccines.
To learn more information on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is monitoring the situation closely.
Updated March 14, 2022.