The coronavirus goes global: How worried should we be?

by Sunyata Courie / Staff Reporter

Map of confirmed 2019-nCoV cases. Photo courtesy of CDC.

For the past month, international media has been dominated by the news of a disease called the “Coronavirus” that started in the Wuhan province of China. Since the epidemic began, 636 people have died, and over 30,000 people have been infected. The disease has since spread to the U.S., France, Australia, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam and several other parts of Asia

While there is a lot of reporting on this virus, there is also a great amount of misinformation being spread on the virus, which the BBC points out. With people blaming Chinese cuisine, American bioweapons, unknown parasites and many other things, it can be hard to figure out the true facts on this disease.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the coronavirus isn’t just one disease, but actually a group of viruses. Only some of these viruses cause disease, which is being called the “2019 novel strain” that is presenting itself as a respiratory illness. 

The 2019 strain of the coronavirus (also called 2019-nCoV) started in Wuhan, China. The exact source of the coronavirus is not known yet, with some sources reporting that it started at an open-air seafood market in the province. Hopkins medicine points out that “a study released on Jan. 25, 2020, notes that the individual with the first reported case became ill on Dec. 1, 2019 and had no link to the seafood market.” 

The source of the virus could also to be bats. According to a study done in the Lancet, the genome sequencing of the virus in humans was the closest match to that same virus found in bats at 88 percent. Interestingly, no bats were sold at the market, leading researchers to believe “that another yet-to-be-identified animal acted as a stepping stone of sorts to transmit the virus to humans.

This wouldn’t be the first time that a coronavirus has been passed to humans through animals. Both the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) epidemics were caused by coronavirus transmission from animals to humans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC also states that it’s unsure why certain strains of the coronavirus evolve to infect humans. 

The 2019 Novel Coronavirus has picked up a media storm that has affected many in unpredictable ways. As Insider points out, “tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter are all working toward limiting the spread of misinformation about the virus shared on their platforms.” This misinformation can come in the form of posts that are just outright wrong, like a post made on Facebook claiming, “Oregano oil is a cure for the virus.” Insider goes on to note “the article is more than a decade old and there’s no such cure for coronavirus.” 

“I’ve heard a lot of different things and I’m not sure what to believe,” said Lilly Pribish, a freshman political science major. However, she’s not too worried about contracting the virus herself: “it is pretty under control, at least in the United States.” 

An unfortunate side effect of this virus originating from China has been an increased sense of racism towards Chinese people around the world, particularly through memes. Pribish finds this very disappointing, “you can’t blame people for something they have no control over.” 

The mother of freshman musical theatre major, Amy Kim, is currently in South Korea. Kim remarked that her mother had told her: “they completely sold out of protective facemasks” and that she is “unable to find them anywhere.” She also said that her mother told her Hyundai, a Korean car manufacturing company, “has stopped production because most of the parts they use to produce the cars are imported from China.” This was confirmed by CNBC.

According to the CDC, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid “being exposed to this virus.” In order to do this, it recommends tips such as “washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds” and to “clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.” Since there is no vaccine for this virus yet, the best way to not get it is by practicing basic prevention tips, the same way one would with the flu. 

So far, there is no known vaccine for the coronavirus. The U.S. has only had 12 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Since Feb. 2, the United States has shut down travel from China to all but seven airports, including O’Hare

The ultimate outcome of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus is still uncertain, with experts stating that it’s quite possible the many travel bans may have stopped the virus in its tracks. Another possibility is that it becomes part of the seasonal flu endemic and appears every year. Regardless, this coronavirus outbreak has a much lower mortality rate than SARS’ 10 percent and nowhere near the 37 percent of MERS coronavirus. Nonetheless, health officials across the world are going to be keeping a close eye on this virus as it becomes more global, looking for a cure.



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