The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

The coronavirus is a new disease that was discovered in Wuhan, China. Though the virus has only been known for a very short time, it has traveled through multiple countries, and two cases have been confirmed in the US. With the World Health Organization (WHO) voting on whether to make it a global health emergency, it could be like the Ebola outbreak — so, here’s what you need to know.

Origins

The virus is part of the SARS virus family, which means it mainly affects the respiratory tract. There are many different strains of the coronavirus that have similar symptoms to SARS and MERS. The disease originated in Wuhan, China, presumably in a seafood and wildlife market. Originally it was transmitted by animals, specifically chickens, but recently it has been confirmed to be transmitted person to person. From China the disease has now spread to Thailand, South Korea, Japan, and the US, with possible cases in Australia.

The Disease

Similar to SARS, which caused a pandemic in China in the early 2000s that infected around 80,000 people, the coronavirus seems like a common cold with symptoms including a cough, headache, and/or sore throat. It can progress to a lower respiratory infection including a fever, and then could potentially progress to pneumonia. Because the disease is caused by a virus there is no antibiotic that can be used to get rid of the virus in the body. Bacteria are microorganisms that cause infections in humans, and antibiotics attack certain characteristics of the bacterium such as the cell membrane or replication. Viruses are intracellular diseases that infect individual cells which causes symptoms, and because of this they cannot be cured as easily as a bacterial infection. People who are infected with the virus mostly will recover on their own and can only treat their symptoms, such as by taking fever and pain medication.

Transmission

Thousands of people have been infected, with CNN reporting on 1/21/2020 that the number of confirmed infections grossly underestimates the true numbers. The death toll is also rising with about 17 now reported across several countries. This means that the situation has turned from a pandemic to an epidemic. Because the symptoms appear as a common cold it is possible that many people are infected, but their symptoms aren’t severe enough to seek medical attention yet. Also, because the transmission has switched from zoonotic to person to person, the situation has become much more severe. This transmission means many more people can be infected and not know it for a while, which means they will spread the virus more.

What is Being Done

Because the virus is spreading at a rapid pace, many countries have put protocols into place to try and stop transmission. The market where the virus originated has been shut down in Wuhan, and face masks are now mandatory in the city. To try and stop the respiratory transmission, people must now wear face masks in public places like waiting rooms, hotels, and restaurants to stop the spread through coughing and sneezing. Because Wuhan is a large travel hub in China, many places like bus terminals and airports have disease screening. Thermal readings have been used in bus terminals and airports to detect people who could be traveling with a fever, one of the signs of a more serious form of the disease. Though these protocols had been set up, people were still allowed to travel, which is how the disease spread to other countries. In the US, these protocols have also been set up in LAX, JFK, and other large airports. These are some of the largest airports with flights from Wuhan, China, but the first case was in Washington state, so these protocols won’t stop all transmission. Wuhan has also stopped all travel to and from the city to stop transmission outside of the city. On Wednesday 1/22, the WHO scheduled to meet and decide whether to declare this a global health emergency, but they decided they did not have enough data so they postponed their decision for later in the week.

The coronavirus is a very serious virus attacking many countries of the world and is possibly causing a global health emergency. It is important to be aware of the situation and how to protect yourself from what could be a dangerous epidemic in the world.

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