Rise to Peace blog

What In The World Is Coronavirus? A Short Primer

Editor’s Note: One does not typically expect to see an article related to public health or infectious disease on Rise to Peace. After all, we are an organization focused on counter-terrorism and counter-extremism efforts. Nevertheless, an opportunity to educate our followers about Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) arose and organization leadership thought such a measured analysis should be shared. We live in a globalized world and one of the aspects that accompany such a world system is the spread of viruses and subsequent public health issues. Education is the best antidote against fear and paranoia. Reminders such as these present opportunities for all of us to ‘get back to basics’ in daily preventative measures not only to keep ourselves healthy, but our elderly, young, chronically ill and immune-compromised neighbours. Learn about the current virus all over the headlines right now and use the advice to prevent other common viral infections. Thanks to Emirhan Darcan Ph.D for this timely piece!

Most viruses that cause infectious diseases in humans come from animals. Viruses usually have a reservoir animal that is not affected by the virus and several animals that transmit it. Influenza and similar viruses that infect the respiratory tract usually originate from birds (where they mutate) and then spread to humans via pigs or other animals. Where humans and animals live together in cramped spaces, as in China, a virus variant can develop which jumps over to humans and then makes the leap from person to person.

The new pathogen is called 2019-nCoV and infects the respiratory tract. It was discovered at the end of 2019 in Wuhan, China. In the worst case, an infection can lead to pneumonia. Initial accompanying symptoms are rhinitis and fever. The pathogens causing the diseases Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) belong to the same family. As of February 3, there were more than 20,000 confirmed cases in more than two dozen countries. 426 deaths have been reported.

How the infection spreads from person to person is not known for sure. The droplet infection (sneezing, coughing) would be the most contagious way of transmission. As you would from the flu: wash your hands often and keep a fair distance from those who are symptomatic. Face masks do not provide reliable protection against viral disease, but they do prevent you from repeatedly touching your face. This is more likely to protect others.

The biggest difference between the current CoV disease and SARS lies in the timing: Chinese New Year is the time when Chinese people want to see their families and therefore travel is increasing rapidly across the country. This will make it difficult to curb the spread of the 2019 nCoV though China has cancelled some public celebrations and extended the holiday period.

The lethality of the virus depends not only on the pathogen, but also on the circumstances. The 2019-nCoV is thought to have a lethality rate of about 2 percent. This would be lower than in the SARS outbreak of 2002/03 with a death rate of 9 to 16 percent of all infected persons. MERS is less infectious but kills more infected people: 30 to 40 percent. The most lethal virus so far is believed to be the Zaire type of the Ebola virus, which killed up to 90 percent of the infected. The Marburg and Lassa type of Ebola, on the other hand, had a lethality rate of between 20 and 25 percent. Less than 0.1 percent of those infected from the flu, 2.5 percent are suspected to have died from the Spanish flu of 1918/1919. In the past, 3 to 6 percent died from rubella and 0.1 to 0.2 percent from measles.

The reproduction rate R0 indicates approximately how many people a single virus carrier can infect. However, there are many uncertainties, for example, that the number of known cases does not correspond to the actual number of cases, or that infected people without symptoms could spread the virus further. The health status of a population also has an influence. For the current Corona-virus, estimates vary from 1.4 to 2.2 or 3.3 to 5.47. A R0 is greater than 1 means that the virus is spreading. The wave of influenza has a R0 of 1 to 2, with an estimate of 3 for SARS, and the highest values for the risk of infection are found in the literature for measles (12-18) and whooping cough (12-17).

China has prohibited travel and shutdown cities. The World Health Organization (WHO) has intervened. Despite the low mortality rate, the disease is more serious than influenza, and there are more hospital admissions. Hospitalization is expensive and absenteeism from work is expensive. Health systems could quickly reach their limits if the disease continues to spread. It is therefore appropriate for health authorities to react differently than in the case of an influenza epidemic. This is also because the virus is new and no one is yet immune to it.

The rapid global response to the discovery of the new virus is a good sign. Even if the dynamics of infection and mortality do not seem to reach record levels, it is important to react quickly, otherwise, a pandemic, i.e. a global epidemic, may still be imminent. China has learned from SARS and so have health authorities worldwide. Today, when the origin of a virus can be traced, no country can afford to conceal it because the number of infections rose rapidly. A virus can also mutate at any time.

It is feared since the danger of a pandemic has been better understood. Not much can be done against unknown viruses and the therapy of a patient is limited to nursing care. The condition for a pandemic is the ability of a pathogen to jump quickly from person to person. Most dangerous are pathogens that have a high lethality, but at the same time, a long incubation period and the ability to infect other people even without symptoms. It is therefore difficult to take epidemiological measures against them.

— Emirhan Darcan Ph.D

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