Viruses Are Not Quite Alive and Not Quite Dead, and Other Things to Know About COVID-19

Contrary to popular myth, viruses are not living things, conscious with malicious intent to ruin your day. You might liken them to the bots of the disease world; they’re not cellular, they can’t grow or make their own energy.

What they are capable of is replicating and adapting, and each virus has a unique way of doing that. Viruses are programmed to detect particular surface proteins or channels on the outside of a cell, and make their way in via the favored route.

A Cellular Doorway

For COVID-19, the favorite avenue to cellular entry appears to be the ACE-2, or angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, receptor. This part of the cell plays a role in regulating blood pressure. Major areas of the body that produce high amounts of cells with ACE-2 receptors include the lungs, the heart and the GI tract.

Cells within the lungs contain type 2 pneumocytes which produce a natural surfactant. These soap-like molecules reduce the surface tension of pulmonary fluids, enabling the lungs to expand and contract freely. Premature babies are sometimes born before their lungs are able to produce these surfactants, which can contribute to neonatal respiratory distress. In adults, lack of surfactant can produce ARDS, or acute respiratory distress syndrome. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or coronavirus, when entering into the lungs, accesses the cells and then overtakes them in order to replicate, directly damaging otherwise healthy lung tissue. Difficulty breathing associated with coronavirus is partly due to the fact that damaged cells may not be able to produce the necessary amounts of surfactant, resulting in a reduced ability to expand and contract.

COVID-19 within heart tissue is more of a concern if heart disease is present already. An undermining of healthy cellular activity could potentially lead to cardiomyopathy, wherein the heart cannot pump blood efficiently to all areas of the body. As the ACE-2 receptor regulates blood pressure, there has been some experimentation with ACE-2 blockers and other types of blood pressure medication to see if those may mitigate the virus, but studies have yet been inconclusive.

Daily Evolution

Coronavirus is still a new phenomenon, and as such, new information about its characteristics and symptoms are evolving daily. Early reports did not include gastrointestinal symptoms as an effect of the illness, however, there have now been a number of cases recorded that exhibit GI distress in the days before respiratory symptoms occurred. Nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain have been present in some, but not all, cases. While it is, as yet, unclear whether the virus can be detected in the lining of the digestive tract, it has been found in stool samples of those known to be sick.

It’s no surprise that pharmaceutical companies are clamoring to be the first to the finish line in producing a vaccine for coronavirus. Several companies are in clinical studies with products that are potentially effective. Evidence is also emerging that several antimalarial drugs, including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, show promise in fighting the disease.

Empower Yourself

The constant barrage of dim statistics and doomsday prepping can become overwhelming. Some of the things you can do to keep yourself and your family healthy are the things we often do already.

  • Wash your hands when you’ve been in public places
  • Avoid touching your face, especially the eyes, nose, and mouth with contaminated hands
  • Wipe down hard surfaces with a bleach dilution or wipes that state their ability to kill viruses and bacteria.

This is easy enough to do in the home, but if life requires you to go out in public for something essential, it’s helpful to bring your own and thoroughly clean the surfaces you come into contact with before and after you use them.

If someone in your family does have the virus, keeping at a distance of 6 feet or more lessens the chance it will be transmitted to you through the air.

Remember to take care of yourself. Getting adequate rest, eating lots of green, leafy veggies and giving your body a good supply of vitamins, including D3, will go a long way in supporting its ability to maintain health and boost immune response!



Published on: March 20, 2020
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

Dr. Green- I learned a lot from your radio appearance Saturday on The People’s Pharmacy. The section on ACE2 Inhibitors and how the CV-19 replicates… and how we might be able to use Zinc entry into body cells of the heart, lungs, and GI track may work to stop replication of the virus. Anyway… well done! Denny Smith, Ulysses, KS


Thanks so much for your response!

Here is a link to The People’s Pharmacy interview Denny mentioned above.

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

Alan, grateful for the informative and accurate information on Covid-19.

You said in an earlier article,

“While wearing a mask can be beneficial in some specific cases, in reality, they are better at keeping a sick person’s illness contained, rather than preventing a healthy person from acquiring the disease.”

What are your recommendations to healthcare providers who’ve been instructed to put on a mask; keep that same mask on thru an entire shift (which may be upwards of 12 hours)? It seems to me standard PPE practices (which we often fail miserably to follow in the best of times) go a long way in preventing transmission.

And, how many times can we say, “please wash your hands!”


Also, please leave your cellphones and other personal items in your car (don’t take into the hospital setting). We tunnel vision: failing to wipe down our cell phones … collecting germs as we take them from surface to surface … the desk in the ER, to the self-check scanner at the grocery store, to the restaurant where we pick up take-out. At day’s end, we head home where we do think to shower and wash our scrubs … but fail to sanitize the cell phone we’ve just laid on our bedside table ( your young child retrieves; play-acts; holding that phone to their ear and face … transmission). I know cell phones are lifelines to families for healthcare providers … but if we fail to wipe them down, diligently, they have the potential to become something else. ~

Hi Vicki,

Thanks so much for writing in.

Dr. Greene has answered your question as a post so others can easily find it. You can see his answer here. Dr. Greene also, said “I also love your other thoughts on reducing spread – especially cleaning our phones!!”

Thanks so much for your service. All of us staying at home appreciate the amazing work all of you are doing. You’re a hero!

Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.