Entomology in the Time of COVID-19 – Part 1: Can insects spread SARS-CoV-2?

The virus that is changing the world where we were born and are now, so far, luckily still alive and living in, is a relatively large particle, that is, compared to other viruses. Its full scientific name as a virus is Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The convenient acronym is SARS-CoV-2, matching that of the disease it causes, coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, sometimes known by its other popular names China virus or Wuhan virus. Its size ranges from 50-200 nanometers. The one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which had an outbreak in 2002-2004 ranges from 80-90 nm and is considered a different strain of the same virus species.

Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 is non-living. However, once it is able to go inside the cells of its host, the cells’ molecular machineries are effectively hostaged and the virus particles behave as if living. The virus takes over the otherwise routine processes of gene replication, transcription and translation. The major key, therefore, to combat COVID-19 is to prevent entry of SARS-CoV-2 into the bodies and organ systems of humans. 

Measures to arrest community transmission of the virus are already being implemented. However, serious concerns have been raised about the local conditions particularly within and in the vicinity of urban poor communities. One is the congestion, something that is inevitable in densely populated human settlements. The other is the relatively higher incidence of urban or domiciliary insect pests, a consequence of human activities therein. Realizing this “given” urban environmental conditions, not a few have asked questions: Can insects transmit or help spread the dreaded virus? These concerns are valid because people are now aware that insects like mosquitoes are vectors of deadly diseases while other pests associated with filth and human wastes can harbor pathogenic microorganisms.

The question of whether insects can spread SARS-CoV-2 or not, is difficult to answer at present. SARS-CoV-2 is new to us. Yet, obviously, there is a need to give answers to lessen people’s worries so that they may concentrate on the more salient measures to help ‘flatten the curve.’ In this series, we will attempt to provide some answers, albeit tentative, from the viewpoint of an entomologist.

I hope you’ll read this series in the coming days. Thank you.

Jun Lit (Ireneo L. Lit, Jr.)

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