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The #1 Cause of COVID-19, According to Science 

Experts explains what causes COVID and how to help avoid it
FACT CHECKED BY Alek Korab

While there's still so much researchers are learning about COVID, there is a lot we do know like how the virus spreads, how to help prevent getting COVID, what the symptoms are, people who have a greater risk of catching the virus and the cause of COVID-19 infections. Eat This, Not That! Health to talked experts who explained what the cause of the virus and how to help avoid it. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Causes COVID-19 Infections

Woman sneezing.
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Dr. J. Wes Ulm, MD, Ph.D., a physician-researcher and part of the Heroes of the COVID Crisis Series says, "COVID-19 technically speaking is the umbrella term for the range of human disease presentations caused by SARS-CoV-2 — the highly contagious RNA-based coronavirus first spotted in late 2019, and the pathogen at the heart of the ongoing global pandemic. Therefore, SARS-CoV-2 in one of its many variant forms — such as delta or omicron as we've recently encountered — and the body's response to it, which can often involve severe inflammation and tissue damage, are the root causes of COVID-19. More broadly speaking, in an epidemiological sense, COVID-19 is caused by the spread of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles from person-to-person, through both aerosols (airborne means) and droplets (as with the flu), in a high enough initial dose (what we call viral load) to overwhelm the body's primary defenses and cause clinically significant illness. For this reason, from a public health perspective, effective COVID-19 prevention essentially amounts to three key 'chokepoints': (1) minimizing the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles from person-to-person, (2) optimizing the immune response to mitigate clinical illness for any given viral load within a recipient, (3) boosting surveillance for potential contagion."

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D. Professor of Public Health New Mexico State University adds, "COVID-19 is caused by SARS-COV-2, a new type of coronavirus. Most coronaviruses are not dangerous except this new one and MERS and SARS. The rest cause common colds that we see every year in late fall or winter."

2

How COVID Spreads

Waiter coughing into elbow while serving customers in a restaurant.
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According to Dr. Khubchandani, "COVID-19 infected people exhale or cough or sneeze small particles called droplets that have the virus. Others can get infected due to close contact with infected people wherein the air has these droplets that transmit infection. It is also possible that the infected people cough or sneeze with some force and these droplets may directly get in the face of others and cause infection via nose or mouth. Therefore, wearing a mask offers a great amount of protection as we never know who is infected." 

RELATED: Think You Have COVID? Here's the First Thing You Should Do

3

How Our Body Picks Up COVID

man holding his nose because sinus pain
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Dr. Khubchandani explains, "Our body cells have receptors and COVID-19 utilizes them to attach to the cells. These human cell receptors are now well defined such as ACE2, neuropilin-1, and AXL. COVID-19 has spiky surface proteins that hook onto the human cell receptors in the nose, throat, or deep in the respiratory tract to trigger the infections."

RELATED: These Medications are Best for Omicron Symptoms

4

How to Help Prevent the Spread of COVID

Woman Washing her hands with soap and water at home bathroom
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"Hand washing gained a lot of prominence early in the pandemic and should still be valued," Dr. Khubchandani says. "Touching the face, mouth, or eyes with hands that have viral particles can cause infection. Especially now, when COVID-19 cases are increasing worldwide, many households have individuals with flu, common cold due to other coronaviruses, or COVID-19." 

RELATED: 5 Ways You're Most Likely to Catch COVID

5

Vaccines

Nurse taking blood sample from young female patient in the background. Selective focus on sample tube.
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Dr. Khubchandani reminds us why it's important to get vaccinated. "While a considerable debate has surrounded vaccines as they may not always be able to prevent infection, they can prevent severe infections leading to hospitalizations or deaths to a reasonable extent.. So, the best bet is to wear a good quality mask and get vaccinated." 

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6

How to Stay Safe Out There

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Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more
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