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Coronaviruses – Facts behind the News by Dr Richard Hastings

What is a Coronavirus?

Viruses stand out in the living world – primarily because they are considered as non-living entities, so in fact, they don’t belong to the mass of organisms that constitute the living world. Yes, viruses exhibit characteristics that living things must possess – they reproduce, for example, but even then, viruses don’t follow quite the same reproductive rules as the rest of nature and they lack other characteristics that all living things, from beetles to bacteria, possess. Viruses, for example, don’t metabolise nutrient sources to produce energy, they aren’t made out of cells and they don’t grow. Technically, viruses aren’t killed by disinfectants because if they aren’t living in the first place how can they be killed? That said, we don’t call them dead either, so let’s stay with non-living entities. A virus is inactivated by disinfectants, meaning the disinfectant affects the virus in such a way as to render it incapable of performing its normal routine, and if that routine is infecting a person, animal or plant, virus inactivation is a beneficial process. More on virus inactivation later in this article.

So, what are they?

Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites; that means they cannot reproduce – make copies of themselves without help – so they first need to enter a host in order to reproduce. It’s this virus-host combination we call infection. Structurally, viruses are composed of genetic material (like all living things and their genes code for new viruses), protein and maybe some small amounts of lipid and carbohydrate. A generalised structure is: the genetic material (the genome) at the virus core, surrounded by a layer or layers of protein (the outside layer is called an ‘envelope’). This is a basic description of a Coronavirus.

An artist’s impression of a Coronavirus                                             What a real Coronavirus looks like


Those characteristic surface spikes visible on the photomicrograph on the right are what give the Coronavirus (corona means crown) its name. There are a number of Coronaviruses, differing from each other due to structural variations in their genome but they are all sufficiently similar to be considered the same type of virus, so the Coronaviruses have been grouped into their own family. COVID-19 (CO – Corona, VI – virus, D – disease, 19 – 2019) is a new member of the family – Coronaviridae.

Why are Coronaviruses so deadly?

Normally Coronaviruses are not considered deadly in the same way that, say, Ebola virus is. That’s not to say that the Coronaviruses are not an important source of human and animal disease – they certainly are. The issue is one to be framed in terms of severity of disease. COVID-19 is associated with relatively high levels of ICU admission and mortality – it has caused clusters of severe respiratory illness similar to those previously seen during other severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus outbreaks. Why is this? The inconvenient answer is; we don’t know, yet. There are too many gaps in our knowledge of the COVID-19 virus. For example, where it came from, how it is transmitted, where it has spread to and what it does in the human body. This understanding takes time to acquire and then scientists are better placed to explain exactly why COVID-19 is a major public health concern.

How does they spread?

All respiratory Coronaviruses, including COVID-19, are believed to spread via direct contact with contaminated respiratory secretions or large aerosol droplets. Most viruses are thought to survive on inanimate surfaces, that is, outside their host, for a limited period of time, so it is possible that infection can be acquired from the environment. Middle East respiratory syndrome and severe acute respiratory syndrome are both zoonoses (infection in humans from animals). Complicating factors of COVID-19 transmission are that patients can transmit the virus effectively before onset of symptoms and after recovery from the acute illness.


What products do Mirius have to help fight, protect and safeguard against Coronavirus?

Anti-bacterial Cleaner

Can anti-bacterial cleaner kill Coronaviruses? – This is being tested now independently with a UK test facility.

Can Omnicide kill Coronaviruses? – Yes its kills the ‘family’ of Coronaviruses.

Omnicide is a well-established disinfectant with potent antiviral properties. Omnicide has repeatedly been demonstrated to inactivate (some people say “kill”) a wide range of viruses, including members of the Coronaviridae. When we understand the structure of viruses (see above) and the mode of action of the active substances in disinfectants (Omnicide being a perfect example) we can readily comprehend why viruses are inactivated by disinfectants and therefore rendered impotent. Let’s consider Coronaviruses. Those surface spikes that give rise to the name ‘corona’ are protein structures. They are responsible for anchoring the virus to the outside of a host cell, which is one of the first stages of infection. Once attached by the surface spikes, the Coronavirus endeavours to gain entry to the vulnerable cell, commandeer the host cell’s biochemical operation and produce copies of itself. The infected cell at last bursts open and numerous new virus particles are on their way to spread the infection to more cells. Omnicide damages those key viral proteins and damaged proteins don’t work as they should. In essence, the Omnicide inactivates the virus because the Omnicide-exposed virus can no longer infect its target cells. This mechanism forms the basis of laboratory disinfectant performance tests and is exploited to answer the question How effective is this disinfectant at inactivating viruses?

A main feature of Omnicide is that it is non-selective in the type of viral proteins that it attacks. Omnicide not only damages Coronavirus surface spike proteins but surface (envelope) proteins from a wide range of other, non-Coronaviruses too. Omnicide’s affinity it to viral proteins in general.

Omnicide (and other disinfectants) are not intended to be applied to people, animals and plants during viral disease. They are, however, useful in the decontamination of environments where viruses can persist. Removing infectious viruses from key environments is an important component of biosecurity and has an obvious role during the undesirable spread of viruses.

A more comprehensive description of the persistence of coronaviruses in the environment will be provided in our forthcoming blog article.

Dr Richard Hastings (Mirius Healthcare Regulatory & Technical Manager)- 24/2/2020.

About – Dr Richard Hastings – Richard has a Phd in Microbiology with many years’ experience in biocides. He is highly skilled in REACH, BPR and registration issues for biocides on a global scale having develop new products and gained registration and acceptance of these products all over the world. He has established research and is a published author in antimicrobial technology.


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