5 facts about the infamous 2019 Coronavirus outbreak
1. Is this a new virus? It is in fact a new virus, but it has already been identified and sequenced (aka the DNA strand or sequence, has been studied). That work suggests that it is a relative of other coronaviruses like SARS. In case you’re wondering, the family of viruses called “coronavirus” is responsible for causing things like the common cold, but each virus within that family can cause illness that varies from not too serious to life threatening. The official name, btw, is 2019-nCoV. This virus, the 2019-nCoV appears to have originated late last year in a seafood market Wuhan, China. That seafood market is believed to have been selling wildlife illegally. This virus is believed to have originated or come from an animal source.
2. How easily is it transmitted from human to human? We don’t yet fully understand how “infectious” or how easily it is transmitted from human to human. As scientists collect data, we will know more. Currently, the scientific data suggest that it is more infectious than the flu, but how infectious will depend on a number of factors and those factors change on a daily basis. As scientists gather more information about it, we will have a better idea about how easy it will be to contain it, create a vaccine for it, prevent others from getting it, how sick it will make people, etc. It’s still, simply, too early to tell.
3. Do you need to worry if you’re in the US? That’s a tricky question. As I write this, there are a total of 5 cases reported in the US. There are 2062 reported in mainland China. It is most certainly a greater public health emergency in China than it is in the US, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. If you’re in the US, you currently have more reason to worry about the flu and getting sick from that, than getting infected with 2019-nCoV. That said, it is helpful to keep up with information about this new outbreak. I’ve listed a number of great resources at the end of this post. Bottomline: We are not facing a pandemic. Not yet at least.
4. Is the disease deadly?? When reports first came out, there was concern that the high rates of pneumonia meant that the disease was super harmful, possibly deadly. As days have passed, scientists and physicians have seen milder cases appear, suggesting that the 2019-nCoV virus does not seem to be as deadly as it first seemed, and maybe less deadly than SARS, which killed 11% of the people it infected. It is STILL VERY EARLY to say this with absolute confidence, though, so scientists continue to monitor cases and the virus itself before making more concrete statements about it. Many of the cases of death due to 2019-nCov appear to have occurred in people with other illnesses or conditions which weakened their immune system.
5. I’m traveling to China soon; should I be worried?? China has put a quarantine in place (sort of like a mandatory isolation of a group or persons or area), meaning that they have encouraged people not to travel, go places, etc., including travel, until they figure out what’s going on. There are questions about how effective the quarantine will be, given that every province in China has had cases of the virus. The timing of the Chinese New Year and all the travel and proximity of groups to one another likely has not helped transmission of the virus in China. We currently know that the virus is transmitted from human-to-human and that a person can be infected with the virus 7-12 days without showing symptoms. If you are traveling to China, you should practice hygiene and self-protection measures like you would against other respiratory infections, like washing your hands and covering your mouth/nose with a mask during travel or when around others.
To keep up with the latest numbers of cases, follow along here: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
Additional sources of evidence-based information: