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What Does COVID-19 Do to the Body?

After months of lockdown, New Yorkers will be taking their first steps toward regaining some normalcy as the state begins to open up. While certain areas of New York, including the metropolitan area, show signs of being on the other side of this peak of COVID-19 infections, it in no way means the threat is over, which is why vigilance and education are key.

At Forest Urgent Care, our team of experienced urgent care providers wants to ensure that the communities we serve are as prepared as possible to re-enter this changed world. As we witnessed in this first round of COVID-19 infections, the virus is quite serious for certain segments of our population, and we explore the reasons for that, because the threat is far from over.

Please note that because this virus is so new, there are more questions than answers at this point. Top researchers around the world are working around the clock to better understand how the virus affects the human body. Here’s what we know so far.

How the virus enters your body

One of the first areas that researchers focused on is how this virus enters the body. While we have some experience with previous coronaviruses, namely severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), COVID-19 has its own unique characteristics.

A coronavirus is one that can affect both birds and mammals (including humans) and is so named because of the spikes on the surface of the virus (corona means “crown” in Latin). These spikes allow the virus to more firmly attach to cell receptors in your body. More specifically, COVID-19 attaches to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors in your body.

Once the virus attaches to ACE2 receptors in your body, it releases its genetic material into those cells, essentially turning them into hosts that will help the virus multiply and infiltrate your body further.

Your body contains ACE2 receptors in many places, but the ones we’re concerned about are those that exist in your nose, in your mouth, at the back of your throat, and in your lungs.

Fighting back against the invasion

If the COVID-19 virus gains entrance into your body, your immune system is quick to respond with two goals: to kill the infection and to adapt by creating antibodies. When we refer to your immune system, it’s important to understand that this system involves a wide range of cells, tissues, and organs that are spread throughout your body.

In the best case scenario, your immune system fights off the invasion before it brings about any symptoms. As we’ve seen, millions of people around the world show signs of having had the virus, but were asymptomatic.

Should your immune system have a tougher time fighting off the virus, you may experience symptoms that include:

In most cases, your immune system eventually prevails, and the virus runs its course. The real danger with COVID-19 comes when your immune system is unable to respond sufficiently, or you have a pre-existing respiratory condition that leaves your respiratory tract more vulnerable (think asthma or chronic lung disease). 

Again, there is still much we need to learn about the behavior of COVID-19 inside the human body, and we’ve seen people develop serious cases who display none of the risk factors. But, the information that we have discovered certainly underscores the point that those who have issues with their immune or respiratory systems need to remain on especially high alert for the foreseeable future.

As well, anyone with pre-existing heart conditions, diabetes, or kidney or liver disease also needs to exercise caution, as these conditions can lead to serious complications when a viral infection takes hold.

So, as you re-enter the world, please continue to protect yourself and others by washing your hands often, wearing a face mask, and avoiding crowds.

If you suspect you may be symptomatic or you have further questions about COVID-19, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our two offices in Forest Hills or Hunters Point in Long Island City, New York. We can even schedule you for a telehealth visit if you prefer to stay at home.

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