The Why And How of COVID-19

This blog post is going to be unique because it’s inspired by my sons. I’ve got two small sons, and they’re six and eight. They asked me the other day while they were doing homework at the dining room table, they said, “Dad, how does this work exactly? What is a virus?” So, I started trying to explain to them what a virus was from the ground up. I mean, these guys have no idea because they were under the impression, and I think some of you might be too, that when you’re washing your hands that you’re washing the virus down the sink. So I want to help my readers by explaining how a cell works, how a virus works. You’ll be able to learn how they go together, and here’s why it is so important to do our part by socially distancing, staying in our homes, wearing face masks when out in public, and washing our hands.

First, you need to understand what a cell in the human body looks like. It’s got your DNA on the inside, and it’s surrounded by a lipid bilayer. This is your cell’s way of keeping the cell inside and everything else outside. The cell wants to make sure that it maintains itself. And in doing so, it creates this lipid bi-layer that prevents things from getting out or in. A cell replicates splitting this DNA into something called RNA. DNA is a big long chain of amino acids, and they hold all of your cellular information in them. Your body uses that cellular information to split into RNA to then go make the next cell. Normal splitting of a cell happens when your body uses RNA to make new proteins to make a new cell.

So then along comes this COVID-19, and this Coronavirus is not living. It’s not like the rest of your cells in your body. Your DNA is put together with 3 billion base pairs; it’s huge. It’s this huge long genetic code. Coronavirus is actually RNA, so it’s traveling around as RNA, not as DNA. And this RNA is only about 30,000 base pairs long. It’s a teeny tiny little snippet of code. But understand that viruses aren’t technically alive. Without our cells or some other mammal’s cells, the RNA would never go anywhere. It would just wither up and die after a certain number of hours or days. It can’t propagate and make more virus cells without YOUR cell.

You have this Coronavirus or COVID-19 virus RNA, and what this Coronavirus does is it attaches to that lipid bi-layer that we just talked about on the outside of your cells. It uses its little spiky points to grab on or latch onto your lipid bilayer, and then it fuses with the cell. When it fuses with the cell, it injects its RNA into your DNA. Then you have this strand of virus RNA that’s latched on to your DNA. And then when it starts doing, is this thing that’s not even alive has now tricked your cell into start making more of them. This cell ends up pumping out millions of these virions that then go on to find other cells to then continue this process. And that’s really important because it takes YOUR cells for this to happen.

Coronavirus spread is never going to happen without your cells. Understand that this virus is not living. It’s not trying to attack you. It’s not coming to get us. This is the only way that it can survive and keep propagating. But once that virus attaches to your cell, it basically tricks your immune system into thinking that there’s nothing wrong, so there’s no reason to attack. Next, it starts pumping out proteins so that you end up with a different kind of cellular layer so that it can continue to pump out as many of these virions as it can in such a short amount of time. Eventually, your immune system wakes up, realizes what’s going on, and it starts attacking these different cells that are pumping out these viruses for it.

The problem is that if there’s a huge viral load, meaning you get a lot of this stuff all at one time, you end up with too many cells making too much before your immune system catches on. And then the other thing that ends up happening is your immune system starts to overreact. So, when your immune system overreacts, what you end up getting is this huge mass of dying cells. This results in a lot of fluid, and when that fluid is in your lungs, you end up unable to breathe. When you’re unable to breathe, you get put onto a ventilator, and then hopefully, that ventilator is enough to keep you breathing long enough so that your immune system can do the trick. Right now, we don’t have anything that stops this process exactly, but we’re going to talk about some of the things that are out there right now.

One question I have been getting is, is it true that this virus stays alive on a surface for two weeks? Well, it depends on the surface and the temperature and the humidity. For now, you have to just assume that it’s almost everywhere that you’re touching, right? I would just go with that. Just assume that it is literally everywhere. And this is why we are required to do social distancing. Because if you’re never around someone to get the first one of these into your body, then it doesn’t matter. It’s never going to affect you if it never gets to you. If the last of these COVID-19 cells dies on whatever host is on, and the last person to have COVID-19 ends up staying away from everybody else, that’s the end of it. There’s no more of this virus. It’s gone.

Another thing you might ask is, why do we wash our hands? This virus is not put together like our cells. It doesn’t have the lipid bilayer, but it does have a lipid layer. On the outside of the coronavirus cell, there is a fat layer. When you’re washing your hands, when you’re getting a nice, good lather of 20 seconds worth of hand-washing done, that soap destroys that lipid layer and lets loose all of that RNA, so it’s ineffective and can’t get to you. You want to wash your hands not to wash this virus down the sink, but it’s actually so that thing gets cracked open and is dead and done, and it cannot get to any other cells. That’s why we’re washing our hands.

Let’s talk about a vaccine. Do we have a vaccine for this thing yet? The answer is no; they’re working on it. In fact, there are so many groups working on a vaccine for this, it’s exciting. It’s going to change medicine probably forever in such a great way to know that all these different groups can come together and work together. If you look at the diagram of the cells, you see these little blue moons that are actually antibodies. If you were to get a vaccine for this, your body would develop antibodies. It works the same as if you end up catching this and recovering; your body will develop its own antibodies. Those antibodies stick onto those little spiky points, and they inactivate that virus so that it cannot attach to the cell. So, it’ll be important to get vaccinated for this in time.

I’m hoping that this simple explanation of how cells and viruses work will be helpful to your kids; it definitely helped my kids to understand. They were complaining about having to stay inside, but now that they understand how it works on a deeper level, it makes sense to them. And I want you to know that Nightlight Chiropractic is here for you during the coronavirus crisis. I would like to offer my services via telemedicine at this time. Feel free to email me at If you give me a telephone number, I will happily call you and talk to you about what’s going on and offer my advice. I’m happy to give you five minutes of my time to make sure that you have the answers that you need. Keep in mind, I’m a chiropractor, so the healing that I provide is hands-on, but I’m happy to provide advice to you for free. Please do reach out with any questions or concerns that you may have and stay safe!

About Dr. Merrill

headshot of Dr merrill
Dr. Andrew Merrill is a passionate active clinician and owner of Nightlight Chiropractic Orlando where him and his team treat hundreds of patients each month. With a strong background in exercise science from Stetson University, clinical skills from Palmer College of Chiropractic, and continued postdoctoral training in spinal disc injuries and clinical nutrition, Dr. Merrill is very well versed in the healthcare landscape. With topics ranging from "what to do for common ailments" to "why the medical system is failing you" Dr. Merrill and this blog in particular aim to keep readers up to date on what the research shows and how you can put it into practice NOW to keep yourself healthy for a lifetime.