Look out at the stars and you feel so very, very small.
You’re just an infinitesimal spark flickering briefly in the perfectly disordered cosmos.
Until, poof, the light snuffs out.
And you’re a real gone kid.
And if you are being observed from across a few trillion galaxies your light will have gone out aeons ago, and they’re only seeing it now.
You’re a long, long gone kid.
Like Conor Oberst sings in We Are Nowhere and It’s Now:
“You see stars that clear have been dead for years
But the idea just lives on”
But are you gone?
Normally, your personal assemblage of atoms, protons, cells, tissues, organs, and elements will all disassemble after you die, and slowly release you into the ecosystem, as a nutritious and deliciously rich source of minerals and chemical elements.
You really are part of the show.
And you always were.
So, small as you are, you pack quite the cosmic punch.
Hardly as big a punch, proportionately, however, as an infinitesimally small virus that is causing immeasurable fear and damage around our planet right now.
Compared to the coronavirus, you are as vast as any galaxy.
This crown-headed scourge of our planet measures just 200 millionths of a millimetre — 50,000 virus particles fit on the head of a small pin.
So big are you by comparison, you cannot even see this deadly invader that can enter your body through your nose, mouth or eyes, and then, according to the NY Times article I was reading, it will attach itself to cells in your airway that produce a protein called ACE2.
The coronavirus is named after the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The virus is enveloped in a bubble of oily molecules, which falls apart on contact with soap.
That’s if you intercept it outside your body, before it reaches those cells.
So we keep washing our hands.
According to the NY Times, the virus infects each cell by fusing its oily membrane with the membrane of the cell. Once inside, the coronavirus releases a snippet of genetic material called RNA.
The infected cell reads the RNA and begins making proteins that will keep the immune system at bay and help assemble new copies of the virus.
Antibiotics kill bacteria but do not work against viruses. But loads of wonderful brain-box researchers are frantically testing antiviral drugs that might disrupt viral proteins and stop the infection.
For me, this is another one of the mad things about this virus, indeed all viruses: the precision and twisted genius in the way it goes about its thoughtless work.
That’s nature for you though, us humans are the only ones who think about what’s going on, every other creature, microscopic parasite or organism just carries on conquering and attacking, and mutating and perpetuating.
Each cell infected by the coronavirus can release millions of copies of the virus before the cell finally breaks down and dies.
The viruses may infect nearby cells, or end up in droplets that escape the lungs.
Each droplet of spit, snot or mucous shooting out of your mouth contains billions of these stormtroopers of the airways.
Most Covid-19 infections cause a fever as the immune system fights to clear the virus.
In severe cases, the immune system can overreact and start attacking lung cells.
The lungs become obstructed with fluid and dying cells, making it difficult to breathe.
A small percentage of infections can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, and possibly death. Like in Italy right now: nearly 3000 deaths when I googled a few minutes ago.
That’s the great thing, I reckon, about computers: they are keeping us together as they keep us apart.
I have sat here in my little home office signed into the Houston nerve centre of two different newspapers and worked away. Proud to be part of a team producing those newspapers that will have hit your news stands, wherever you are.
As all the while our crown-headed devil lies waiting to cross over into another host cell network — that’s you or me.
Coughing and sneezing can expel virus-laden droplets on to nearby people and surfaces, where the virus can remain infectious for several hours to several days.
The virus seems to be transmitted mainly via these respiratory droplets that we sneeze, cough, or exhale.
Here’s some more stuff I have come across: a virus is a microscopic piece of genetic material surrounded by a coat made of proteins.
Like we said, it enters healthy cells and hijacks them, creating copies of itself.
When viruses begin replicating inside a living organism, they can cause an infectious disease.
In the case of the coronavirus pandemic, the virus is SARS-CoV-2, and the disease is called Covid-19.
But here’s another mad thing: ingenious as these viruses are when they go about replicating themselves and wreaking all that havoc, they actually can’t function without interacting with a living cell.
They need the host cell to replicate.
So, if they are outside your body, and your hands are properly washed, soap can kill the virus.
But once it’s inside, and begins replicating, it’s much harder.
Your own cells are being used against you, as the virus infects and uses them to replicate itself — this process often kills the infected body cells, causing damage to the body.
This battle can cause all sorts of problems in our body, depending on the virus and its location: inflammation, fatigue … all the symptoms we have seen described.
In many cases, our bodies win the battle — viruses like the flu or the common cold are usually fairly easy for a healthy person to beat.
But some viruses can be much harder to fight, especially for people with compromised immune systems.
So on it goes, the raging of the Covid-19 pandemic, and we vast but tiny creatures struggle to contain our anxiety and our fear as we protect ourselves and carry on living.
Here again, faith must play its part: we have to believe we will come through this, and learn from it.
At times like this, we can see how vast and how infinitesimal is our cosmic footprint.
And, as Sting put it:
“For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are”
And yet how resilient too.
For, as our Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar, said in one off two landmark addresses to the nation:”We will get through this. And we will prevail.”
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