December 2019 – The month in which China’s worst nightmare came to light – The emergence of yet another virus (coronavirus) like the one that circulated in China back in 2003 (SARS) which killed more than 900 around the world within weeks. Since the appearance of coronavirus, it has spread quickly and the number of people infected has grown every day making this new virus roughly as contagious as SARS. Now there’s a lot of confusion and debate on this topic and everyone is wondering what exactly this virus causing illness in Wuhan is? Let me explain the current situation by starting with explaining a bit more about this very disease.
Coronaviruses are a type of virus (relentless replicating adaptive machines that are constantly evolving). There are many different kinds of coronaviruses and some of them can cause colds or other mild respiratory illnesses. Other coronaviruses may cause more serious diseases, including SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).
The ongoing 2019–20 Wuhan coronavirus outbreak is a novel coronavirus, also called 2019-nCoV, a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Experts are still tracing the exact source of coronavirus against the earlier thought that it developed through those who visited the seafood market in Wuhan, China. However, a study of 25 January 2020, underlines that the individual with the first reported case became ill on 01 December 2019 had no link to the seafood market. Accordingly, Investigations are ongoing as to how this virus originated and spread.
Recent information indicates that the virus probably originally emerged from an animal source but now seems to be spreading from person to person. The virus has been detected in people throughout China and 27 other countries.
The virus spread quickly because it started in a transportation hub; Wuhan City, which is a difficult place to contain an outbreak. It has around 11 million people, more than New York City. Wuhan is linked to Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities by high-speed railways and domestic airlines. Reportedly, now the complete city is practically shut down.
In spite of efforts to contain the virus, it has gone international and on Jan. 30, the World Health Organization declared the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’.
A month since it emerged but there are still a lot of unknowns and we are learning more and more about this coronavirus each day including how contagious it might be but still it will take some time to understand its defining characteristics.
The spread of this new coronavirus is being monitored by several health agencies in China and other countries, including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other health organizations like Johns Hopkins that has considerable expertise in the field of infectious diseases and experience with infection control of viruses like the coronavirus.
It appears that symptoms are showing up in people within 2 weeks of exposure to the virus. It causes viral pneumonia, with symptoms including Cough, Fever and Shortness of breath. In rare cases, it may lead to severe respiratory problems, kidney failure or death.
As of now, there is no specific treatment available. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics will be of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work either. Effected people should be treated with supportive measures that relieve symptoms. However, recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system as many of those who have died were already in poor health.
Notwithstanding the complexities of this deadly virus primarily due to many unknowns – the efforts, initiatives and resolve shown by the Chinese Government including presiding of a special meeting on the Lunar New Year public holiday by the Chinese President Xi Jinping himself, building a dedicated hospital in a week timeframe and instituting effective Quarantine measures to arrest the spread of decease are highly admirable. This also implies that we all as responsible members of this globalized society must stay focused, concerned and supportive with an aim to contribute in the ongoing efforts/initiatives of the Chinese authorities and other International organizations.
With such a collective approach, ongoing efforts and history of arresting SARS and MERS effectively, I am confident that we will soon be able to address this virus too and life around the world in general and Wuhan, China in particular will become normalized.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made following suggestions:
- Wash hands (frequently and thoroughly for at least 20 seconds).
- If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands
- Stay home when you are sick
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects people frequently touch
Also, we need to actively explore associated challenges / opportunities (Unknown unknowns) and strategize to contribute in the ongoing international efforts/initiatives for effectively controlling any further spread soon.