Are you frightened of COVID-19? Being frightened is not good enough. If you are one of those who dismiss lock-downs as an over-reaction, or an infringement of civil liberty; or a person anxious about the cancellation of Christmas; or who subscribe to some conspiracy theory or other — or, perhaps, one of the seemingly large number of people who seem to think it could never happen to them — you should be a lot more than just frightened.

You should be terrified.

The core symptoms of COVID-19 — that is, infection with the SARS-C0V2 virus — are a persistent dry cough, high temperature, breathing difficulties and general respiratory distress that could become pneumonia. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One reason why you can can carry the virus for so long without apparent symptoms — and therefore spread the virus widely — is that the virus initially dampens your immune system, as if sending the guards off to sleep. When your body realizes it has an interloper, it’s too late: the virus has already made itself at home deep in your lungs.

As if to make up for its earlier lapses, your body then over-compensates. Normally, your body responds to an infection by releasing substances that alert the immune system, causing inflammation. With COVID-19, though, the body overdoes it, creating what’s ominously known as a cytokine storm. This is a kind of immune-system chain reaction that can lead, in some cases, to multiple organ failure and death.

In the meantime, infection can cause serious disorders to your blood’s natural clotting system. This can lead to anything from your blood failing to clot where it’s meant to — and clotting where it’s not meant to. Blood clots in your arteries and veins can lead to anything from deep-vein-thrombosis to angina and stroke. A long-term effect is damage to all the blood vessels in your body, which has the potential to lead to symptoms associated with diabetes, such as long-term damage to nerves, loss of sensation in extremities, and, especially, acute kidney damage, that could require you to have dialysis and even transplant. Your heart muscle may also suffer long-term damage.

Your brain and nervous system may also be affected. Neurological symptoms range from loss of taste or smell, to headaches and dizziness, to blackouts and seizures. The virus has been implicated in encephalitis (infection of the brain), meningitis, stroke, as well as Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a disorder in which the immune system attacks the nerves); Miller Fisher syndrome (which can cause various forms of paralysis) and assorted psychiatric complaints (including hallucinations). There is at least one case of COVID-19 associated with parkinsonism.

Now, SARS-CoV2 is not the first virus to be associated with these acute, horrible and life-threatening conditions. What’s unique about the virus is how easily you can spread, it, especially during the long period when you might have the virus but be unaware of it. To make matters worse, it seems likely that the virus can be transmitted through the air, not just in drops of spit.

Although I am an editor for a well-known science magazine (and, needless to say, so I’ll say it, I’m writing here in a personal capacity), all this information is freely available, to anyone. I found it during a casual hour on the net this morning. None of this information is obscure, and if there are terms you don’t understand, Google is always happy to help.

Ignorance is no excuse.

People really need to wake up and smell the coffee (and if you can’t smell the coffee — it’s too late).

Fretting about getting the family over at Christmas? Good. Chances are, if you get the virus, it’ll pass off after a week or two in which you feel ghastly, but you’ll get better — although you will have spread it to your vulnerable relatives. Nevertheless, those long-term consequences should give you pores paws pause for thought. To be sure, some of the more disastrous results of viral infection are, it has to be said, very rare. But, well, just think. Is a seasonal knees-up worth any risk, however small?

If you think it is, have another mince pie.

Go on, punk. Make my day.

About Henry Gee

Henry Gee is an author, editor and recovering palaeontologist, who lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets, inasmuch as which the contents of this blog and any comments therein do not reflect the opinions of anyone but myself, as they don't know where they've been.
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