Coronavirus: What Happens When You Get Infected?

There are many types of coronaviruses. Some give you the common cold. The new coronavirus behind the 2019-2020 pandemic causes an illness called COVID-19.

How Does Coronavirus Attack Your Body?

A virus infects your body by entering healthy cells. There, the invader makes copies of itself and multiplies throughout your body.

The new coronavirus latches its spiky surface proteins to receptors on healthy cells, especially those in your lungs.

Specifically, the viral proteins bust into cells through ACE2 receptors. Once inside, the coronavirus hijacks healthy cells and takes command. Eventually, it kills some of the healthy cells.

How Does Coronavirus Move Through Your Body?

COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, starts with droplets from an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or breath. They could be in the air or on a surface that you touch before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. That gives the virus a passage to the mucous membranes in your throat. Within 2 to 14 days, your immune system may respond with symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • A cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Chills, sometimes with shaking
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • A sore throat
  • Loss of taste
  • Loss of smell
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea

The virus moves down your respiratory tract. That’s the airway that includes your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. Your lower airways have more ACE2 receptors than the rest of your respiratory tract. So COVID-19 is more likely to go deeper than viruses like the common cold.

Your lungs might become inflamed, making it tough for you to breathe. This can lead to pneumonia, an infection of the tiny air sacs (called alveoli) inside your lungs where your blood exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide.

If your doctor does a CT scan of your chest, they’ll probably see shadows or patchy areas called “ground-glass opacity.”

For most people, the symptoms end with a cough and a fever. More than 8 in 10 cases are mild. But for some, the infection gets more severe. About 5 to 8 days after symptoms begin, they have shortness of breath (known as dyspnea). Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) begins a few days later.

Continued

ARDS can cause rapid breathing, a fast heart rate, dizziness, and sweating. It damages the tissues and blood vessels in your alveoli, causing debris to collect inside them. This makes it harder or even impossible for you to breathe.

Many people who get ARDS need help breathing from a machine called a ventilator.

As fluid collects in your lungs, they carry less oxygen to your blood. That means your blood may not supply your organs with enough oxygen to survive. This can cause your kidneys, lungs, and liver to shut down and stop working.

Not everyone who has COVID-19 has these serious complications. And not everyone needs medical care. But if your symptoms include trouble breathing, get help right away.

What Else Does COVID-19 Do to Your Body?

Some people also have symptoms including:

  • Pinkeye
  • Rashes
  • Liver problems or damage
  • Heart problems
  • Kidney damage
  • Dangerous blood clots, including in their legs, lungs, and arteries. Some clots may cause a stroke.

Researchers are also looking into a few reports of skin rashes, including some reddish-purple spots on fingers or toes.

A few children and teens have been admitted to the hospital with an inflammatory syndrome that may be linked to the new coronavirus. Symptoms include a fever, rash, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and heart problems. The syndrome, now being referred to as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C is similar to toxic shock or to Kawasaki disease, a condition in children that causes inflammation in blood vessels. We’re still learning about these cases.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 03, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Raina McIntyre, PhD, NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, Professor of Global Biosecurity, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

MedlinePlus: “Viral Infections,” “Fever.”

CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).”

Nature: “Virus.”

Science: “Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation.”

Genetics Home Reference: “What is a cell?”

Federation of American Scientists: “Do you have COVID-19 questions? Our scientists have answers.”

Journal of the American Medical Association: “Coronavirus infections—more than just the common cold.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “That nagging cough.”

Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: “Severe Outcomes Among Patients with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) – United States, February 12 – March 16, 2020.”

American Lung Association: “What causes pneumonia?” “Learn about ARDS.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Here’s the Damage Coronavirus (COVID-19) Can Do to Your Lungs.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “I’ve been diagnosed with the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19. What should I expect?”

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Epidemiology, virology, clinical features, diagnosis, and prevention.”

CDC: “Interim Clinical Guidance for Management of Patients with Confirmed Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19).”

Cleveland Clinic: “Here’s the Damage Coronavirus (COVID-19) Can Do To Your Lungs.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Coronavirus Eye Safety.”

The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology: “Liver injury in COVID-19: management and challenges.”

Thrombosis Research: “Incidence of thrombotic complications in critically ill ICU patients with COVID-19.”

Medscape: “Kidney Complications in COVID-19 Send Hospitals Scrambling.”

Consul General of the Official Colleges of Podiatrists, Spain: “COVID-19 Compatible Case Register.”

New York City Health Department: “2020 Health Alert #13: Pediatric Multi-System Inflammatory Syndrome Potentially Associated with COVID-19.”

Nemours/KidsHealth: “Kawasaki Disease.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Pagination