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Under the Microscope: COVID-19  

  • Since early 2020, COVID-19 has become a household term. As unusual infections originating in China in late 2019 began to spread around the world, COVID-19 rapidly became the most widespread and dangerous health crisis since the 1918 influenza pandemic. Let’s take a closer look at the virus, the characteristics that gave it its name and what the virus does to the human body.  

    What’s in a Name 

    Most people had never heard of a coronavirus before late 2019 or early 2020. But scientists have been studying them and public health officials monitoring them since at least the mid-1960s. Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like spikes (coronam is the Latin word for crown) that are visible when the virus is viewed under an electron microscope.  

    The coronavirus associated with the pandemic that began in 2020 is known by different names: COVID-19 (an abbreviation of coronavirus disease 2019), the novel coronavirus and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It should be noted that there are other types of coronaviruses, and most are not as dangerous as the one behind the pandemic or its variants. The common cold is also linked to several coronavirus strains. 

    How the Virus Enters the Body 

    When an individual with coronavirus coughs or sneezes, the tiny droplets that leave their body can float through the air and enter another person’s body through the nose and/or mouth. This is the reason masks are recommended as a preventative measure, as they can reduce the risk of an infected individual spreading the virus. Once inhaled, the virus can attach itself to the back of the nose or throat using its distinctive spikes. 

    What the Virus Does Once Inside the Body 

    While the virus is clinging to nasal or throat tissues, it begins to enter the host’s (victim’s) cells and replicate itself — replication being the hallmark of any virus. The infected person might experience symptoms such as a dry cough, fever and loss of taste and smell, or they may show no signs of infection at all. 

    Eventually, the virus may move down into the lungs via the trachea. That’s when the real trouble can start. The body’s immune system attacks the virus, creating liquid (pus) in the lungs, at which point the infected person develops a condition similar to pneumonia. Depending on the person, that may be the final stage before recovery. However, some people are unable to overcome the excessive fluid in their lungs and develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). At this point, the level of oxygen in their blood drops significantly and they have difficulty breathing. People at this stage are generally put on ventilators. Some do not survive.  

    While the virus is most commonly associated with problems in the lungs, it can also travel to the heart, causing heart attack-like symptoms. Blood clots are common, which can lead to complications such as strokes. There is also potential for kidney damage, a restriction of blood flow to the fingers and toes, and a number of other possible complications. 

    How You Can Learn More 

    The University of Florida offers an online master’s degree program that can put you on the front lines of the fight against infectious diseases and other threats to our well-being and help you achieve your career goals.   

    If you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree in the sciences from an accredited institution and meet the other program requirements, we invite you to apply to our Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science with a concentration in Medical Microbiology and Biochemistry program. This online program equips you with a deep understanding of specialized topics in the complex field of microbiology and cell science. You are not required to visit campus, nor do you have to take the GRE or meet any lab requirements. You can complete this 30-credit graduate degree program in as little as one year. Topics of study include: 

    • Infectious diseases 
    • Virology 
    • DNA and RNA viruses 
    • Immunology 
    • Bioinformatics 
    • Genetics 
    • Metabolic regulation 

    The knowledge you’ll acquire in our master’s degree program can prepare you for a rewarding career in fields including government, research, microbiology education, cell biology, cellular biochemistry and molecular genetics. 

    If you’re interested in learning about microbiology from an environmental perspective, our 13-credit Graduate Certificate in Environmental Microbiology provides that focus. You can find details about the program here.  

    Are There “Healthy” Viruses? 

    While the virus associated with COVID-19 infects people by entering their bodies, the human body already has many viruses existing within and on it — and, perhaps surprisingly, not all of them are to be feared. The human body is host to almost too many microorganisms to count, including bacteria, fungi, viruses and others. This ecosystem, what we call the human microbiome, is essential to regulating our health. Some viruses are known to kill “bad” bacteria, essentially helping their host (us) fend off certain bacteriogenic diseases. If you’re interested in learning more about viruses in the context of the human microbiome, you may want to consider our 12-credit Microbiome and Health Online Certificate program alongside our master’s degree program. 

    An Important Step Toward Higher Earnings 

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021 the median earnings of master’s degree holders are about 20% higher than those with a bachelor’s degree alone. In addition, the BLS states that those holding graduate degrees experience the lowest rates of unemployment. Our Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science can position you for enhanced career opportunities. 

    Our Online Advantage 

    We offer our Master of Science in Microbiology & Cell Science and Microbiome and Health Online Certificate programs entirely online, which allows you to complete coursework on your own schedule, from practically any location. Our asynchronous format enables you to pursue your degree or certificate in a way that suits your needs. This flexibility is invaluable if you have ongoing professional responsibilities or personal obligations, such as family duties. You can maintain these essential obligations while getting a quality education that can help you move up the career ladder. In this program, you’ll study the same curriculum from the same expert faculty who teach it on the University of Florida campus. 

    See what a master’s degree in microbiology and cell science can do for your life and career! 












    At a Glance