Researchers in the lab of Camille Ehre, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine have created amazing images of respiratory epithelial cells infected with the pandemic virus SARS-CoV-2. The work has been reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
These images have been colorized, and they show cellular appendages called cilia; their tips are blue. Strands of mucus adorning the tips can be seen in yellow. The cilia on these lung epithelial cells help move mucus, which can trap pathogens and irritants, out of the lungs. These cells were grown in culture and exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus; 96 hours later, the scientists used scanning electron microscopy to capture images of the infected cells.
An image taken at high magnification shows SARS-CoV-2 virions in red. When viruses infect cells, they take over the cellular machinery to generate more virus, which gets out of such host cells to infect others. Virions are the infectious viruses that infected host cells release in the respiratory environment.
This work can help demonstrate that every infected cell generates massive amounts of virions in the respiratory system. These high levels of viral particles pose a serious danger to the body; the virions can go on to infect other organs, and increase the chances that an infected individual will spread the infection to others. It also illustrates why masks are so important; infected individuals, whether they show symptoms or not, are capable of shedding huge numbers of virions.
The video above from the University of California San Francisco highlights the importance of wearing a mask during the pandemic; not only do they protect others and you, they may also make a case of COVID-19 less severe if a mask-wearer ends up infected. An expert from the Mayo Clinic demonstrates the proper mask-wearing technique in the video below.