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Biology Professor Answers 3 Common Questions About COVID-19
Ruth Phillips is an assistant teaching professor and biotechnology program advisor at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences.
Professor Phillips answers 3 questions about curbing the spread of COVID-19:
What might scientists be doing right now to curb the spread?
Phillips says: “I think educating the public is very important. All of us are exposed to millions of different viruses every day, and these interactions between viruses and animal hosts have been going on for hundreds of millions of years. There will always be new viruses appearing because that is the nature of viruses – they evolve. This particular virus causes flu and/or pneumonia-like symptoms, which many people’s immune systems can handle naturally. Severely ill patients require medical care while their immune systems fight off the virus. Vaccinations prime the immune system so that it can fight off the virus more quickly, and antiviral medications keep the number of viruses in a patient at a low level so as to decrease the symptoms.
“Scientists are researching the nature of the virus, in order to understand what genes it has, how it interacts with cells and how it replicates. This research can help us find ways to curb the spread of the virus from 3 angles:
- Creating rapid and reliable diagnostic tests that would detect the presence of the virus in patients
- Developing and testing different types of vaccines that would allow the immune system to quickly neutralize the virus, before it can cause illness
- Identifying antiviral medications that are able to stop the virus from replicating inside the cells it infects.”
From a biology perspective, why do we see surges of the virus in new locations outside mainland China?
Phillips says: “Biologically speaking, we should be aware that symptoms can range in severity, and only patients with severe illness have been diagnosed with the virus during the past few months. Actions have been and are being taken to isolate or quarantine these severely ill patients, but this is not always 100 percent successful. In addition, people with mild symptoms can carry and transmit the virus without being aware of it.”
What do you predict disease specialists are doing here in the U.S.?
Phillips says: “If you mean the medical community (as opposed to the research community), I would hope they are going to be prepared for an influx of patients and that they are building capacity to care for everyone that becomes ill, regardless of health insurance status.”
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