Coronavirus Questions Answered: How Does Exposure Lead To Infection?

It's thought the spikes help the coronavirus latch onto cells. [creativeneko / Shutterstock]
It’s thought that the structure of the coronavirus, specifically the "spikes" on its surface, help it to latch onto cells. [creativeneko / Shutterstock]

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Lawrence from San Francisco wants to know exactly how exposure leads to infection.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Amy Edwards of University Hospitals said some people may be exposed but not become infected.

Exposed means a person could be in the same vicinity of an infected person, but with respiratory viruses like the coronavirus, to become infected means the virus has gotten into the mucus membranes in a person's eyes, nose or mouth.

That’s why washing hands is so important, because people might become exposed by touching a doorknob with the virus on it, but it's only when they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth that the virus is able to enter their bodies through those mucus membranes. 

Once inside, Edwards said the virus latches on to cells and causes infection. She said it’s thought that the structure of the coronavirus, specifically the "spikes" on its surface, help it to latch.

Any virus, including the coronavirus, uses the cellular receptors to get into the cell. The cell allows the virus in, thinking it’s a protein or something good.

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