The World Health Organization has announced that COVID-19 is a pandemic. As we continue the lengthy fight against COVID-19, we must first understand what it is and how it happens. How does the novel coronavirus work? How does it infect people? Why do we feel symptoms?⁠ 

Find out how we are monitoring and responding to the outbreak, how you can help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Australia, and what to do if you have symptoms. 

Let's break it down

Researchers¹ have identified that SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of the virus) enters cells through a "keyhole" receptor protein called ACE2. This receptor protein is found in abundance in the cells of the lungs, mouth, tongue, and intestine, which helps explain why the symptoms of COVID-19 are experienced in the respiratory system, and why some patients also complain of gastrointestinal distress. ⁠

When the virus infects a human body (generally through the mouth, nose, or eyes), it locks onto an ACE2 receptor using a protein "spike" (which looks something like a crown, or a 'corona'—hence the name 'coronavirus') and infects and hijacks those healthy cells. Once inside, the virus releases RNA (genetic material) that instructs the cell to multiply and reproduce new copies of itself. The resulting immune response from the human body triggers the symptoms of COVID-19—fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and other respiratory complications.⁠

Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • coughing
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • shortness of breath

If you are sick and think you might have COVID-19, check your symptoms using healthdirect's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Symptom Checker by clicking here.

To protect others you must:

If you're concerned

You can call the Australian National Coronavirus Helpline for information and advice about COVID-19. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450. 

Call this line if you are seeking information on coronavirus (COVID-19). The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 1800 020 080


¹ Wrapp D., Wang N., Corbett K., Goldsmith J., Hsieh C., Abiona O., Grahama B., McLellan J., Cryo-EM structure of the 2019-nCoV spike in the prefusion conformation. Science. 13 Mar 2020. 


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