What is the origin story of this pandemic? After seeing the ubiquitous headlines about this virus, I have been trying to ascertain the inception of this novel strain of coronavirus, called COVID-19. New revelations are being uploaded habitually, so if I’m off or you have a correction that pushes this conversation forward, please comment below! Alright, let’s learn together.
First, the name. Why is it called a coronavirus? This is derived from microscopic studies of the pathogen. The structure of a coronavirus genome is a large single stranded positive RNA molecule. The RNA is coded with nucleocapsid (structural proteins). This nucleocapsid is enclosed with an envelope called a lipid membrane. From the envelope, club-like spikes form, looking like a crown. This is where the name Corona originates. Corona is Roman Latin for crown. Fortunately, the coronavirus lipid membrane is easily destroyed by soap, which is why we have been washing our hands for 20 seconds, practicing good hand hygiene. Okay, so where did COVID-19 even come from?
Bats. Bats carry a plethora of coronaviruses. I literally just discovered this today. In fact, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known by the acronym SARS, is a type of coronavirus that originated in horseshoe bats, back in 2003. So, if bats, who are mainly reclusive mammals, host coronaviruses, how did us humans become susceptible to COVID-19? Zoonotic spillover, my friends. Zoonotic spillover, or transfer, has almost always happened through human behavior.
The Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, has been called the ground zero of this pandemic. Ostensibly. This is a wet market in Wuhan, China. Wet markets are places where vendors sell living fresh meat, fish, produce, along with a panoply of exotic animals. In some cultures, people view bats as a delicacy. Bat meat is popular in areas like Indonesia. Some customers who frequent these wet markets believe that bat meat has healing properties, and that it cures asthma. Some restaurants even sell bat curry.