COVID-19 Chapter 14: Virology, Take 2

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The fourteenth installment of our Anatomy of a Pandemic series on COVID-19 dives into what we’ve learned about SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Curious about the new strains or variants making headlines lately? Or how exactly tests for COVID-19 actually work? Or perhaps you’ve been wondering about the different routes of transmission that this virus uses. Whatever your virology question, we’ve (hopefully) got you covered. We were fortunate enough to interview virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, affiliate at the Georgetown Center for Global Health Science and Security, and whom you may remember from our earlier episode on the virology of SARS-CoV-2, which we released all the way back in March 2020. Dr. Rasmussen was kind enough to sit back down with us to answer all of our many burning virology questions (interview recorded December 30, 2020). As always, we wrap up the episode by discussing the top five things we learned from our expert. If you would like to read Dr. Rasmussen's article in The Guardian about the new SARS-CoV-2 variants, follow this link.

To help you get a better idea of the topics covered in this episode, we’ve listed the questions below:

  1. Can you tell us a bit about SARS-CoV-2? What kind of virus it is, other viruses it’s related to, and what that tells us about the virus and the disease it causes?
  2. Could you tell us a bit more about the B117 strain, like whether this appears to be a new strain and how it is different? Do we have any evidence of any strains that seem to cause more severe disease or affect different populations?
  3. Where do these new strains come from?
  4. What does this new strain (or multiple new strains) mean for the effectiveness of the vaccines that have been developed? Will these vaccines work against these new strains?
  5. What additional things have we learned about the structure or surface proteins of SARS-CoV-2 that give us more insight into how it causes disease or the widespread effects it has on the body?
  6. Is there any indication that the virus can be airborne? Does fecal-oral transmission seem to be playing a role?
  7. What are the various ways to test for SARS-CoV-2? Can you walk us through what each experience is like?
  8. How do the rapid vs PCR tests work? And can you compare their accuracy? Why does the rapid test have a higher rate of false negatives than the PCR test?
  9. What has this pandemic taught us about virology?

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