Inside the puzzle to reconstruct the history of SARS-CoV-2 and how it spilled over into humans

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Illustration: Bernice Liu

As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupts the lives of billions around the world, two questions continue to linger: Where did the virus come from, and how did it find its way into humans?

Scientists have been hunting for those answers since the first cluster of unusual pneumonia cases emerged in China in December 2019. …

Understanding infants’ peculiar response to the virus may be a key to finding new treatments

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Photo: Sirapat Saeyang/EyeEm/Getty Images

Babies make up a tiny percentage of all diagnosed cases of Covid-19. In the United States, where 1.2% of the population are children under one year of age, they account for only 0.27% of the positive tests, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. It’s not clear if babies are getting infected at a lower rate compared with other age groups or if they are just not being tested as much. But what is evident is that the ones who are diagnosed have, in general, significantly milder illness compared with adults.

The reason behind babies’ apparent resilience to Covid-19 is being intensely investigated by scientists. Getting to the bottom of that mystery could inspire the development of new treatments, potentially benefiting people of all ages. …

One scientist studying centenarians believes the answer may be in their genes

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Illustration: Virginia Gabrielli

María Branyas, 113 years old and believed to be the oldest woman in Spain, had only mild symptoms of Covid-19. In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy praised Sylvia Goldsholl for beating the novel coronavirus at the age of 108. Connie Titchen, 106, received a round of applause from doctors and nurses as she was wheeled out of Birmingham’s City Hospital. She said she felt very lucky to have fought off the virus.

One of the established facts about Covid-19 is that it hits older people hardest — which is why stories of centenarians beating Covid-19 piqued the curiosity of geneticist Mayana Zatz. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of dying due to Covid-19 is 630 times higher in people over the age of 85 as compared to young adults ages 18 to 29. …

About

Mariana Lenharo

Science and health journalist with a special interest in evidence-based medicine and epidemics. Columbia Journalism School alumna. mari.lenharo@gmail.com.

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