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What Does Coronavirus Do To Your Cells?

This illustration reveals the morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
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We’re asking public health officials and experts to answer your questions about the coronavirus outbreak. Keep in mind that our understanding of the virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, is still evolving. You can submit your own question in the box at the end of this post.

Audience member Riddhi Katore wants to know: “Once a person is infected with the coronavirus, how does it work? What does it do to our cells?”

Here’s an explanation from Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Los Angeles County Department of Health Director:

“The science behind viruses is that they are attacking healthy cells in people. In this case, it’s a respiratory illness, primarily — so it really affects how your lungs may be working. We sometimes see people who are having shortness of breath, having a hard time breathing and may be coughing. The virus itself tends to live in the nose and the mouth of those who are affected.”

These are the reasons why the coronavirus symptoms mirror the cold and the flu. Ferrer says that for some infected with the coronavirus, it might be more likely to look like the former:
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“We have evidence to suggest it can cause very mild disease for people, having the symptoms we most closely associate with the cold: you might be coughing or sneezing, you might feel congested… but you’re not feeling ill, like if you have influenza.”

And even though there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, in most cases, “should you become ill, we are able to treat the symptoms,” Ferrer says.