Professor of Medicine & Dean, UWI Faculty of Medical Sciences, Terence Seemungal.

The month of May has been the deadliest one during the COVID-19 pandemic for this country so far with over 326 deaths.

The virus has taken the lives of more people in the last 31 days than the preceding 13 months of the pandemic. Over 11,000 cases were recorded.

Yet, some people, even with a State of Emergency, several warnings from health officials and first-hand accounts from COVID-19 patients still seem to not believe they can contract or even die from the virus. They continue to flout the regulations.

It leaves the question, what else can be done to convince some people that the virus is real.

Guardian Media spoke with Dean of the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies Professor Terence Seemungal who said it really depends on how your immune system reacts to COVID-19. “You can’t assume that you’re immune,” he said.

The Professor of Medicine explained how the virus affects the body. He said for approximately 80 per cent of people COVID-19 does very little.

“You get the feeling of a cold and better in a short time,” he explained.

But the 20 per cent get a bad flu and according to the professor the cough and sore throat they may have goes to the lungs and they become short of breath which according to him is “the key symptom.”

He explained that these are the people who would end up in hospital and as the virus evolves the oxygen level in their body may start to fall.

“That’s because the virus has started to attack the cells in the lungs that are responsible for taking part in the transfer of oxygen into the blood and when that oxygenation in the blood falls to pretty low levels then they wind up going to the intensive care unit,” he said.

That’s about five per cent, two point five of those people die.

To further break down the workings of COVID-19, Seemungal used a lock and key analogy.

He said where the virus goes depends on whether the key of the virus fits the lock of a particular cell in our lungs. This is called the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2 “receptor,” the protein provides the entry point for the coronavirus to hook into and infect a wide range of human cells.

“When the key fits into that lock it can turn the lock and the contents of the virus can be injected into the cell, when that happens the virus machinery takes over the cell and programmes the cell to produce more viruses, so all of the work that the cells in our lungs should be doing, protect the body, protect the airways, gas transfer and so on they can no longer do they’re aren’t the commander of the virus…when is cell is infected by a virus it changes it’s features,” he explained.

He said the surveillance system in the body realises something is wrong and targets the cell before the virus takes over but the result of the immune system working harshly to do this can severely damage the normal cells in the lungs.

“The extent to which you can recover is the extent to which you can repair those cells or generate replacement cells and in some people they can’t and the cells continue to be destroyed and then that’s the end in others they seem to be able to do it, the older you are the more difficult it is to generate replacement cells,” he said.

He said recovery of a patient depends on how their body is handling the infection but within three to seven days someone is either recovering from a mild case or dealing with a severe one and may end up in hospital. Where they face another obstacle, especially if they are bedridden as muscles tend to weaken.