Tag Archives: sick

There’s a new Coronavirus in town, and it’s kickin’ ass and taking names

ImageThe most frequent coronaviruses we encounter are those that cause common colds, although other, more severe viruses occur within this family including the virus that causes SARS.

The current newsmaker, MERS-CoV, is a newly described coronavirus noteworthy for its high mortality (approximately 50% of patients diagnosed with the virus have died). Aside from high mortality, the name of the virus (MERS-CoV stands for Middle East Respiratory System Coronavirus) has drawn controversy because of its identity with the ‘Middle East’. Beyond that, this provides an opportune time to describe and discuss the coronavirus family in terms of structure and other characteristics, which might be a good place to begin.

The Coronavirus Family

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses with a plasma membrane envelope surrounding a helical nucleocapsid, which, in turn, surrounds the genetic material – in this case a positive strand RNA.

ImageCoronavirus genomes an extraordinarily large positive strand RNAs encoding a spike protein (S), and Envelope protein (E), a membrane protein (M) and a nucleocapsid protein (N). Additionally, the virus also encodes an RNA polymerase required for the copying of its RNA genome (a function unlike any naturally occurring in the host cell and therefore requiring a specialized viral protein).

The Envelope is derived from the intracellular membrane of previously infected cells that is taken during the process of viral ‘budding’. Coronaviruses are named for the corona-like appearance (by electron microscopy) of these envelopes and the distinctive viral proteins (E and S) radiating out from the surface. These proteins are essential for the virus’ ability to bind to, and enter, uninfected cells through specific protein:protein interactions.

Within the envelope is the nucleocapsid, a helical structure that self-assembles from capsid proteins in the host cell’s cytoplasm. As this structure assembles, it binds and takes up a viral genome that contains all the genetic information to infect and reproduce in subsequent host cells.

MERS-CoV by the numbers


I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu-enza.

So far, of the 55 cases the CDC recognizes as testing positively for the virus, 31 have died. That’s 56% of infected persons dying of the disease. The majority of these cases remain in the middle east, however a small number have also appeared in western Europe, but with identifiable ties to the middle east. Compare this to the 2.5% mortality rate from the devastating 1918 swine flue epidemic.

Naming Convention

Although the name has accepted been adopted (as well as ‘Saudi SARS’), it goes against a tradition opposing the use of locations in the name of the virus. There are two reasons for this convention – first, it may easily become inaccurate as the virus spreads and second, it can lead to stereotyping and persecution of a group of people. A previous example of this sort of mistake occurred when a new autoimmune disease was becoming prevalent amongst homosexual men in the US. Instead of using a more generically descriptive name, this virus was initially referred to as GRID (gay-related immunodeficiency virus). The virus, itself, had no idea it was supposed to stick to the gay population and before long it was discovered that everyone was potentially vulnerable. The name was then switched (or, more accurately, it finally got an official name, ‘HIV’, for human immunodeficiency virus). However, the damage was already done and many people adopted the belief that the virus only affected gay men, so straight people were not as likely to practice ‘safe sex’, and practitioners of hate speech added another arrow to their quiver: ‘Gay plague was sent by God, who was upset at homosexuals.’

Going Forward

Last week Novavax, Inc. announced the production of a nanoparticle vaccine candidate using the spike protein of MERS-CoV, a strategy that the company previously used in making a SARS vaccine.

Regardless of the method (vaccination, quarantine, etc.) it remains a vital priority to establish a protocol for maintaining public health prior to the Hajj, which is expected to fall between October 13-18, 2013. In 2011 the hajj saw An estimated 2.5 million pilgrims gathered in Mecca, most traveling from (and then returning to) countries outside the Arabian peninsula.


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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Uncategorized


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My Semester starts tomorrow


Click this image to go to the CDC’s flu-tracker website

This has not been a good weekend. I started feeling ill on Friday evening and have been getting progressively worse since then. I was unconsoled by my first exposure to free HBO and Cinemax as I watched ‘Contagion’ while my wife and son were out shopping. It took me a while to realize that I didn’t want to watch hundreds of people fall prey to a wildfire infection, but when I did, I was greeted with a post from the CDC’s FluView app sating that flu has reached epidemic proportions. 

Immediately upon receiving that post I developed generalized body-aches (which I’ll be damned if I can tell are psycho-symatic or not.) To be fair, I have had the flu once before… in about 1999… and there’s no question what it’s like. I couldn’t get off the couch for a week – quite literally. Luckily, I couldn’t eat or drink, so the sequelae to those processes sort of shut down too. So, no, I don’t think I have the flu this year.

What I do have is a semester starting tomorrow  with one class I am taking (introduction to C++ algorithms, or some such nonsense) and an in-service meeting where I teach. Then, on Tuesday I start teaching Microbiology and General Biology. What I need to do is get over this cold as soon as possible and get myself a flu shot, so I don’t have to stand in front of a class promoting the efficacy of these vaccines when I have not gotten one myself.

I admit it, I’m whining and I have no real purpose for this post other than to seek sympathy. This thing must be affecting my mind as well…


Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Crash and Burn

As I said once before, I started P90X about a month ago following a moment of extreme late-night TV watching weakness. Once you get over the embarrassment of following a TV workout, it’s actually quite awesome. I have definitely gotten results over the first month and am very eager to continue with this progress.

The setup is that it consists of three weeks of a set workout involving several days of strength training, spaced with days of cardio, yoga and stretching. Then the fourth week is the break – which actually means just cardio and yoga (still excruciating). I just started day one of month two this morning and something odd and unprecedented happened – I completely bonked. I felt like crap starting out and just chalked it up to a fitful night of sleep and thought I’d recover by the time the warm-up was through. But that never happened. Instead, I completely crashed at the 20 minute mark and couldn’t go on.

Frankly, I’m a little concerned. I’ve been suffering from some creeping tiredness and depression of the past few days – nothing serious, I’ve just felt low on gas and a little unenthusiastic about getting pumped up and engaged. I wonder if I’m just fighting off a cold or something that is staying slightly below the radar. This is consistent with some other (very) mild symptoms of sore throat and headache.

I’ll keep my eye on it, but I hope it’s nothing.

Perhaps I can spend some time mowing the lawn this morning instead of working out. I have to listen to chapter 2 of “Your Inner Fish” for class today anyway. I was thinking of listening to it while taking a short run, but I think that’s out.

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Uncategorized


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