News — April 16, 2020

Your COVID-19 Questions by Professor Racaniello

Over the weekend, through an initiative by the JCI Advocacy Committee and JCI New York City, World Headquarters hosted a special edition of JCI LIVE with Professor Vincent Racaniello, a Microbiology and Immunology Professor at Columbia University.

JCI members from India, Nigeria, Canada and more tuned in to ask their COVID-19 questions to one of the world’s leading virologists.

The following is an edited transcript of the interview. To watch the full video, please visit JCI’s Facebook page.

JCI: How did the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, start?

Professor Racaniello: All viruses that infect humans came from a non-human animal at one time or another. We believe that COVID-19 originated in bats in China. There’s a huge diversity of viruses in bats. Bats are the largest population of mammals, they’re the only ones who can fly and they have more viruses than any other animal on the planet. This is not the first time we have acquired a virus from bats, but this particular one, like SARS-1 before it, like MERS coronavirus, came from a bat. It became a human virus at the end of 2019 and now it is here to stay.

What does our world look like now that we have this new coronavirus?

This outbreak is going to end at some point, maybe in the next couple of months or so. But there will always be COVID-19 somewhere in the world. There are still not going to be a lot of people who are immune to it.

I hope that as the temperature and humidity rise in the summer months, the number of cases will decrease. But it’s possible we could see another increase around November.

Is a vaccine being developed?

Yes. Hopefully, at some point in 2021, we will have a vaccine. Eventually, it will become like other coronaviruses that affect us every winter, causing mostly mild symptoms.

How does the virus move from human to human?

There are two main ways the virus is transmitted among humans. One of them is through respiratory secretions, or droplets that come from your nose and mouth as you speak or cough. The coronavirus can spread through these droplets within several feet. If you’re close to someone who has the virus, you can be infected. Another way is, we all touch our nose and eyes a lot. If you touch your face and you have the virus, and then touch someone else, you can contaminate the other person.

That’s why we want you to do social distancing, wear a mask and refrain from touching your face until you wash your hands.

Is there any other solution besides lockdown?

If we were prepared for this outbreak, we could have had vaccines and antivirals. But we were not prepared. The only other option is to do nothing – to go about your normal life. Many, many people are infected. Even though about 80 percent of infections are quite mild, the 20 percent of those with severe cases overwhelm hospitals. That’s why we don’t want people to keep going about their daily lives.

What is the correct way to wear a mask?

Masks should be very tight-fitting on the face, covering the nose and mouth. You should not be touching your mask, or taking it off to talk to someone. Do not reuse medical masks.

Are drugs like hydroxychloroquine and the tuberculosis (TB) vaccine effective at treating COVID-19?

Right now, a number of really strongly designed clinical trials are ongoing. We will know in a few months whether these drugs work or not. Right now, we would not recommend taking these drugs.

There has not been enough research yet. There are some antivirals that are being tested, but it takes time to test them. You could do more harm than good if you try these methods before they are cleared by medical professors.

Dr. Vincent Racaniello, Professor of Microbiology & Immunology, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons is one of the world’s leading virologists. With the goal of becoming Earth’s microbiologist, he conducts a series of free lectures via YouTube to bring ordinary people important information about health. Since the emergence of COVID19, he has made himself available for interviews to help inform the public about how to stay safe. Find more information about his work on his YouTube channel, Twitter and website.

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