Image by NIAID/Victor Tangermann

A new fictional-yet-realistic account illustrates a gruesome, worst-case scenario of how you — yes, you — could unwittingly spread the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

It's also a horrifying description of how devastating a small proportion of more severe infections can become, so be warned.

The narrative, published Wednesday by New York Magazine, tells the story of a person who unknowingly catches the virus from a friend, transmits it to others, and ultimately dies of COVID-19 and related medical complications in the hospital.

It's a terrifying worst-case scenario — and while the narrative itself is a work of fiction, the biological mechanisms, potential transmission vectors, and medical complications it describes are grounded in medical reality.

For instance, it relays in detail how viruses invade and hijack the cells in a person's body, turning them into breeding grounds that rapidly churn out even more of the virus. By the end, the protagonist dies while hooked up to a ventilator in an overcrowded hospital, after their immune system triggers their organs into shutting down.

As NY Mag describes, most people who catch COVID-19 will recover after bedrest. But for the fictional protagonist, who exposes an Uber driver on the way to the emergency room, the infection gets worse, triggers a deadly immune response, and reveals the horrors of relying on an thinly-stretched healthcare system.

If anything, the story drives home the importance of staying as isolated as possible in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19 — and to exercise proper hygiene and caution in everyday life.