Someone who is infected with the coronavirus can spread it with a simple cough or sneeze, scientists say.
More than 1,380 people with the virus have been confirmed dead and over 64,400 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict that the true number of people with the disease could reach 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn that it could kill up to two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:
What is coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus that can cause disease in animals and people. Viruses break into cells within their host and use them to reproduce and disrupt normal body functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word “corona”, which means crown, because they are enclosed by a spiked shell that resembles a royal crown.
Wuhan’s coronavirus is one that has never been seen before this outbreak. He has been appointed SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for acute acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which killed about one in 50 patients since the outbreak in December, is a “sister” of the SARS disease that hit China in 2002, so it was named after him.
The disease caused by the virus has been called COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus 2019.
Dr. Helena Maier, of the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause mild common cold disease, but two new coronaviruses have emerged since 2002 that can infect humans and cause more serious diseases (severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronavirus).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that’s what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known. ”
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where about 11 million people live, after doctors started publicly reporting infections on December 31st.
As of January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests for the new virus have been developed and recorded cases have started to rise.
The first person died that week and by January 16 two had died and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had been infected, probably up to 7,000.
Just a week later, there were more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that around 4,000 – perhaps 9,700 – had been infected only in Wuhan. At that point, 26 people had died.
As of January 27, more than 2,800 people have been confirmed infected, 81 have died and estimates of the total number of cases have gone from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.
As of January 29, the death toll had risen to 132 and cases exceeded 6,000.
As of February 5, there were more than 24,000 cases and 492 deaths.
By February 11, this had risen to over 43,000 cases and 1,000 deaths.
A change in the way cases are confirmed on February 13 – doctors have decided to start using lung scans as a formal diagnosis, as well as laboratory tests – has caused an increase in the number of cases, to over 60,000 and 1,369 deaths.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly comes from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals: similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in cats and camels respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed for investigation.
Although the market is officially a fish market, other dead and live animals were sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic makeup virus samples found in patients in China are similar to 96% of a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there weren’t many bats on the market, so scientists say there was probably an animal that acted as an intermediary, contracting it from a bat before passing it on to a human being. It has not yet been confirmed what kind of animal it was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved in the research, but said: “The discovery certainly places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
“We still don’t know if another species was an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and perhaps even to market it, nor what species the host might have been.”
So far the deaths are quite low. Why are health experts so worried?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known and it appears to be spreading rapidly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus that infects human lungs.
Another cause for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they have never encountered it before. This means that it may be able to cause more damage than the viruses we often encounter, such as the flu or the common cold.
Speaking at a January meeting, Professor Peter Horby, professor of the University of Oxford, said: “New viruses can spread much faster in the population than viruses that are circulating continuously because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a mortality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we are talking about a virus in which we do not fully understand the gravity spectrum, but it is possible that the mortality rate could reach 2% “.
If the mortality rate is truly two percent, this means that two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
“My feeling is that it is inferior,” added Dr. Horby. ‘We probably miss this iceberg of milder cases. But this is the present circumstance in which we find ourselves.
“The two percent mortality rate is comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, so it’s a significant global concern.”
How does the virus spread?
The disease can only spread to people through coughing and sneezing, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it can also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed that travel in saliva and even through water in the eyes, so close contact, a kiss and sharing of cutlery or utensils are all risky.
Initially, people were thought to be catching him from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced doctors to realize that it was spreading from person to person.
There is now evidence that it can spread third-hand – to someone from a person who captured it from another person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has taken the COVID-19 virus, it may take two to 14 days, or even longer, to show any symptoms, but they can be contagious during this period.
If and when they get sick, typical signs include a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97%, according to available data – will recover from them without problems or medical assistance.
In a small group of patients, who appear mainly elderly or suffering from long-term illness, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the internal parts of the lungs swell and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
What did genetic testing reveal about the virus?
Chinese scientists have recorded the genetic sequences of about 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially examine the treatment of the disease they cause.
Tests revealed that coronavirus didn’t change much – the change is known as a mutation – a lot during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus is mutating and adapting as it spreads through people.
This means that efforts to study the virus and potentially control it could be made more difficult because the virus could look different every time scientists analyze it.
Further studies may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people, then changed and spread from them, or if various versions of the virus existed from animals that developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
So far the virus has killed 1,383 people out of a total of at least 64,441 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two percent. This is a mortality rate similar to the Spanish flu epidemic which, in 1918, killed about 50 million people.
However, experts say that the real number of patients is probably considerably higher and therefore the mortality rate considerably lower. Researchers from Imperial College London estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in the city of Wuhan until January 18 – there were only 444 officially there on that date. If the cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus could be much less dangerous than currently thought, but also much more widespread.
Experts say that only the most severely ill patients are likely to seek help and are therefore being registered: the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions become more serious, there is a risk of developing pneumonia that can destroy your lungs and kill you.
Can the virus be cured?
At the moment, the COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics don’t work against viruses, so they’re out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus, then developing and producing drugs to treat it, would take years and huge amounts of money.
There is still no vaccine for coronavirus and it is not likely that one will be developed in time to be useful in this outbreak, for reasons similar to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the United States and Baylor University in Waco, Texas say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS epidemic. But this could take a year or more to develop, according to pharmaceutical technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and take care of patients who are sick and prevent them from infecting other people.
People who take the disease are placed in quarantine in hospitals, where their symptoms can be cured and will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on site, measuring people’s temperatures to check for fevers, and using thermal screening to identify who might be sick (the infection causes an increase temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small chance that patients will be detected at an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The epidemic is an epidemic, which is when an illness takes hold in a community such as a country or region.
Although it has spread to dozens of countries, the epidemic is not yet classified as a pandemic, which is defined by the World Health Organization as the “worldwide spread of a new disease”.
WHO’s head of global infectious risk preparation, Dr Sylvie Briand, said: ‘We are not currently in a pandemic. We are at the stage where there is an epidemic with multiple outbreaks and we are trying to extinguish the transmission in each of these outbreaks, “reported the Guardian.
He said that most of the cases outside of Hubei had been “spillover” from the epicenter, so the disease was not actively spreading around the world.