Understanding coronavirus and how germs spread (1)
Gus: You're listening to Brains On, where we're serious about being curious.
Brains on is supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Molly: Gus! So glad you could make it to Brains On headquarters for today's taping.
Gus: My pleasure!
Molly: The studio's right this way. Yeah, this all kind of came together at the last minute so we really, really appreciate…
Bob: [coming through megaphone] Please step away from the fort.
Gus: Um… Bob seems to have built a fort entirely out of bottles of hand sanitizer.
Bob: [coming through megaphone] You are correct! This is Fort Fastidious. It is just big enough for me and my popsicle stick collection. And a few snacks.
Gus: Can I ask why?
Bob: [coming through megaphone] Well --
Molly: Bob, we're right here. You can put the megaphone down.
Bob: [coming through megaphone] Oh, ok. [normal voice] Well, I was reading about coronavirus and it was making me a little nervous -- well, I guess I should say a little more nervous than usual. And this just seemed like the best possible course of action.
Gus: I'm not sure that's necessary...
Molly: Ok, Bob. We have to go to the studio and tape an episode. Maybe you should listen to it when we're done.
Bob: If it can be accessed from inside Fort Fastidious, then sure. Um, you can't get viruses from podcasts, right?
Molly: No Bob.
Gus: Bye, Bob.
Bob: See ya later. [through megaphone] Occupants of Brains On Headquarters -- this is a public service announcement from Fort Fastidious. Stop touching your face! Wipe down those headphones before using them! And for the love of all that is good and Purell -- please wash your hands! And then when you're done, maybe bring me more snacks? Please?
[Brains On theme song plays]
Molly: You're listening to Brains On! from American Public Media. I'm Molly Bloom and my co-host today is Gus from Seattle. Hi, Gus!
Molly: So, Gus what have you heard about the coronavirus?
Gus: Well, there's a lot of stuff that they say at school that I know isn't true. And it's kind of confusing overall, but I think I can tell what's true and what's not.
Molly: What kind of stuff are you hearing at school that you think is not true?
Gus: Well, there was this one kid who was eating grapes and they picked one out and threw it away. And I asked them why they just wasted a grape, and they said that it was a “coronavirus grape,” but I thought to myself, “Grapes can't get the coronavirus.”
Gus: And also some people are lying about people they know who have the coronavirus and what to do if you see someone with the coronavirus.
Molly: So you know, in Seattle as we've heard, there are some cases that have been confirmed there. Some schools are closing and businesses are telling people to stay home. So do you know anybody who has been told to stay home or isn't going to work like normal?
Gus: Yeah, my friend Jack, his dad works at Microsoft and they're telling him to work from home now because of the coronavirus.
Molly: When you hear that kind of stuff, how does that make you feel or what does that make you think about?
Gus: Sometimes it makes me nervous, but it doesn't always make me scared or nervous or paranoid because I know that it's not very likely that I will get sick if I do come in contact with it. So sometimes when I'm feeling scared about it, I just tell myself that and I feel kind of relaxed about it.
Molly: And the reason people are telling people to work from home or closing schools is sort of out of a lot of caution because they want people to be around as few people as possible, just in case. Not necessarily because those people are sick or know anybody who's sick.
Molly: Well coronavirus has been in the news quite a bit lately, and just like so many topics, we had a lot of questions, and we know you do too.
Gus: To start off, the coronavirus that's in the news is just one kind of coronavirus. There are a whole bunch of others, too.
Molly: Here's a little factoid for you: Corona is the Latin word for crown! Coronaviruses look like spiky little balls.
Gus: Kind of like a crown! Hence the name!
Molly: Most people have gotten one of these viruses at some point or another. Ever have a common cold?
Gus: That's a coronavirus!
Molly: But the coronavirus that's in the news is a new type of coronavirus. It's made some people pretty sick, but a lot of people have recovered just fine.
Gus: The disease it makes you sick with is called COVID-19.
Molly: Which is a technical-sounding name, but it's really just short for Coronavirus Disease 19, for 2019 -- the year it first showed up. Producer Menaka Wilhelm's here to give us the scoop.
Menaka: Hey Molly and Gus! I want to introduce you to someone who knows ALOT about this virus...
Apoorva: My name is Apoorva Mandavilli. I'm a journalist. And I write mostly about science. And lately, I've been writing a lot about the coronavirus outbreak.
Menaka: Apoorva has been writing about the coronavirus for the New York Times. She says the first outbreak happened in a place called Wuhan, China.
Apoorva: Well, so we found out about the virus on December 31. That's when China first let the World Health Organization know -- that's the international group that tracks outbreaks like this. And really soon after, like, within three weeks, the numbers of people infected started to climb very, very fast.
Menaka: So the virus was spreading quickly. It was new and we didn't know a lot about it. People started to get worried. And even though this outbreak started in China, people carried the virus to new places as they traveled around the world.
Some travelers probably didn't know they had the coronavirus — their bodies were likely fighting the virus without showing any symptoms.
And so far, most people who get sick from the coronavirus get what scientists call a mild case. Maybe they get a fever and a cough, those are common symptoms -- but they don't have to go to the hospital. They get better just by resting at home.
But for some people, especially people over 60 years old or people who have other long-term health issues, the coronavirus can cause a really high fever and a lung infection called pneumonia. These cases are pretty dangerous, and some people who get sick like this have even died.
But remember — most people get better from the coronavirus on their own, they just drink fluids and take it easy. The hard thing about treating this virus is that there's no specific medicine for it. Apporva says scientists are working on a vaccine, but we'll have to wait a bit.
Apoorva: It takes time to make the vaccine, it takes time to test it in people, it takes time to figure out how much to give, when to give,
Menaka: But here's some good news — hardly any kids have gotten sick with this coronavirus.
Apoorva: That doesn't mean they don't have the virus, it may mean, actually, that they get the virus, but their immune systems are able to fight it off. So they only get a teeny bit sick and not enough even for them to know that they're sick.
Menaka: Why aren't kids getting as sick? No one really knows. But there are some theories. Maybe kids just pick up more new germs -- from the playground or school desks -- so their immune systems are used to fighting things off. Adult immune systems, on the other hand, might be less ready for the attack. Apoorva says it's not uncommon for a virus to hit adults harder than kids -- that's how chickenpox usually works.
Apoorva: Adults have other health conditions like maybe they have diabetes, or they have heart problems that make things worse for them. And also, it seems like the immune system just gets weaker as people get older. We just don't know a lot about how all of this works with this coronavirus yet, but kids definitely don't seem to be at high risk.
Menaka: Even though kids seem to handle this virus well, there are still schools that are closing. And like Gus mentioned before, some offices are telling people to work from home, and other big events have been canceled. These closings and cancellations might keep happening — the goal is to prevent a whole bunch of people from being exposed to this coronavirus all at once. The fewer people who are sick, the better doctors and nurses can take care of everyone. So lots of people are trying to help, even though there are a lot of questions about coronavirus.
Apoorva: There are a lot of really, really smart scientists figuring out the answers to all of these. And one of the very cool things with this outbreak has been how open scientists around the world have been with sharing information. So I think we'll have some answers really soon. And, you know, try not to worry, there are a lot of very smart people who are figuring it out. And in the meantime, all we can do is practice good hygiene and keep trusting in the people who know what they're doing.
Menaka: So, just like you -- scientists around the world have a lot of questions, but luckily, we're finding answers pretty quickly too.
Molly: Excellent update Menaka.
Gus: Yeah - thanks!
Menaka: See you later Molly and Gus! Happy hand washing!
Molly: Ok, Gus, before we go on, it's the...
[Mystery Sound audio cue]
Molly: Here it is!
Molly: All right, what is your guess?
Gus: If I had to make a solid guess, I'd say… a copy machine?
Molly: Hmmm very good guess.
Gus: Maybe it was either printing or it was just scanning something because I know when that scanner thing goes back and forth it kind of makes a [scanning sound] noise.
Molly: Yeah, so it kind of sounds like a machine of some sort. Well, we're going to hear it again and give you another chance to guess a little bit later in the show.
Gus: We're working on an episode all about ink and we want to hear from you.
Molly: We're asking you to grab your favorite pen and write us a poem about ink.
Gus: An ode to ink.
Molly: An ink haiku.
Gus: An ink sonnet!
Molly: An ink limerick!
Gus: Or limer-ink!
Molly: Nice one. You can send us your ink-celebrating poems at brains on dot org slash contact.
Gus: That's where we got this question.
Nolan: My name is Nolan from Bellevue Nebraska, and my question is: How do shoelaces come untied?
Molly: We'll have the answer to that during our Moment of Um -- and we'll read the latest group of listener names to be added to the Brains Honor Roll.
Gus: That's all at the end of the show. So keep listening!
Molly: You're listening to Brains On from American Public Media. I'm Molly.
Gus: I'm Gus.
Molly: Ok, Gus, like I'm sure you've experienced when one person in your family gets a cold, that cold virus spreads and then all of a sudden your whole family is sick!
Gus: So how does that happen? How do viruses spread?
Kara: We can answer that!
Gus: Who said that?
Gilly: Us - Kara and Gilly! You can't see us because we are microscopic.
Kara: We're viruses! And we have a podcast too!
Molly: Oh geez. Does everyone have a podcast now?
Kara: Hit it, Gilly!
Kara: I'm Kara!
Gilly: And I'm Gilly. And this is...