Semi-Fictional

Here’s a Grisly Description of a Worst-Case Coronavirus Infection

A narrative breaks down how the coronavirus invades the body — in gruesome detail.

3. 18. 20 / Dan Robitzski
NIAID/Victor Tangermann
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.

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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.


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