From news outlets to your doctor, everyone is using the word novel when talking about the coronavirus. While it is a snazzy word, it also holds a lot of significance.
So, what is its significance?
Novel means something new. And, depending on what you’re talking about in medicine, sometimes new is a good thing. For example, new treatments are great. However, in the world of infectious diseases, things are a lot different. New is not good.
It all has to do with 2 things: our immune system and treatments.
New things are bad for our immune system(EM-MUNE SIS-TEM) — A network of proteins and cells that work together to stop invaders from taking over the body and causing many problems. Every time our immune system encounters something it has never seen before, it has to learn how to fight it, starting from ground zero. This means, in some cases, we can experience the full wrath of the illness.
It’s kind of like driving to work on a winding road for the first time—you have to think harder, pay more attention, and be extra cautious. The next time you drive it, it becomes easier as you are more familiar with it. You remember the turns, anticipating the next one faster. You recognize the path and know you are going the right way. With less focus on where you are going, you are able to react faster, reducing the chance of being in a wreck or driving off the road.
Familiarity and practice do not prevent the unexpected like an accident, but the unexpected does become much less likely or less severe. The same is true with how your immune system learns to fight different illnesses. Once it knows the right way to fight a disease, it does it faster and better.
This is exactly the case for the coronavirus. Humans have not encountered this virus before, so none of our immune systems have any resistance to the symptoms. We have to completely rely on our own immune system to fight it off.
Beyond our body’s own defense system, the medical community hasn’t had time to discover any vaccines(VAX-ZEENS) — A treatment used to teach your immune system how to recognize certain foreign invaders and prevent disease or treatments. Vaccinations are used to prevent illness by teaching your immune system how to fight it without actually getting the illness and experiencing it in full force.
Basically, a vaccine’s whole job is to make a virus not look so “novel” anymore.
But with the coronavirus, we haven’t had time to develop the vaccination. And no other vaccine already in use works against it. We have nothing to truly prevent or treat the coronavirus. We can only try to contain the spread and treat the symptoms of those infected.
The good news is our immune systems were built exactly for this. Humans have been beating viruses and other diseases our entire existence, even when there weren’t any vaccinations.
Plus, there is a positive outlook for the future. We will learn how to make medications or vaccines for the coronavirus, but it will just take some time. You might remember that AIDS(AIDS) — A disease that causes the weakening of the immune system; acquired immunodeficiency syndrome was once an epidemic, and now we can treat it and prevent its spread.