image of novel coronavirus - photo taken under microscope

“Novel” Coronavirus – 2019-nCoV Most Frequently Asked Questions Answered

 

by Richard Cameron


I suspect that I was not the only one that (A), up until the last week or so, hasn’t heard of the “Coronavirus” and (B), – other than it is a virus, does not know what it is or where it came from, outside of the fact that it is suspected by health authorities to have shown up here via China.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average knocked 170 points from yesterday’s tally, supposedly on concerns about potential global economic impact of the epidemic, so we probably should at least check out the basics on this – although your personal health takes precedence.

parents and child at Sydney International Airport, wearing N95 type flu prevention masks
Travelers at Sydney International Airport, donning flu prevention masks in terminal.


Here are the essential FAQ’s on the virus:

 

1.  What is the clinical name of this virus?

It’s referred to by the WHO (World Health Organization) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) as 2019-nCoV, or as it is called in media reports, as the ‘Wuhan coronavirus’, the Wuhan part of the title, stemming from the suspected point of origination, Wuhan City, China, which is now under an area wide quarantine. 

2.  What type of virus is this?

2019-nCoV belongs to a family of coronaviruses (CoV), which include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The ‘n’ portion of the nomenclature indicates that epidemiologists consider its infection of humans to be novel – previously unseen other than in other mammals such as pigs and cats.

3.  How many casualties have been reported as of today (January 24, 2020) and are any deaths related to it in the United States?

The Wuhan coronavirus is suspected of being the cause of 26 deaths, nine in just the last 2 days – none so far in the U.S. The first reported case of infection occurred in Washington State

Today, two more infections are being reported in the U.S. – one at Texas A&M and another in Illinois, where a Chicago resident returned from Wuhan a little over a week and a half ago with symptoms. 

Hundreds more are thought to have contracted it, are quarantined and under treatment.

4.  Why has it been named a “coronavirus”? 

The name refers to the shape of the disease when viewed under a lab microscope being something resembling a crown, which in medical Latin, is “Corona”.

5.  I heard that researchers believe that the largely unregulated and unconventional (outside of Asia)  manner in which animals are sold in street markets is pointed to as the conditions that are behind the spread of these CoV viruses to the human population, as in this case, China? 

That is correct.  Vineet Menachery, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, told Popular Mechanics that “In 2002, the emergence of SARS-CoV changed that opinion as it caused a severe respiratory disease that spread across the world. SARS-CoV was traced backed to civet cats and raccoon dogs sold in live markets in China. The culling of these market and strict quarantine ended the outbreak.”

Emily Landon, M.D., virologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center, discusses this aspect of the transmission from animals to humans:                                                                                                                        

We’ve known about this particular virus for a few weeks after a cluster of severe pneumonia cases were reported on New Year’s Eve in Wuhan, which is in the Hubei Province of China. On January 9, virologists and other public health researchers identified the strain as a novel coronavirus, which was tied to a specific “wet market” in the city of Wuhan where they sell fish and other live animals.

These markets have been known to transmit viruses before. For cultural reasons in the region, people want to see the specific animals they’re buying be slaughtered in front of them, so they know they’re receiving the products they paid for. That means there’s a lot of skinning of dead animals in front of shoppers and, as a result, aerosolizing of all sorts of things, which is why these crowded markets are common places for viruses to jump from animals to people. It’s actually how SARS, another coronavirus, started in 2003.

Genetic analysis has shown that the new virus has some similarities, particularly the protein code most prominent in 2019-nCoV to coronaviruses that circulate in bats and snakes, which raises the question, were either bats or snakes being sold to shoppers at those “wet markets”?

photo of "Wet Market" in Hong Kong, offering freshly slaughtered meat to customers by street vendors. Meat is not refrigerated when displayed.
“Wet Market” in Hong Kong, offering freshly slaughtered meat to customers by street vendors. Meat is not refrigerated when displayed.

MSN News reports that snakes, including the Chinese Cobra and the many banded Krait were among the animals sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where many initial cases visited before they became sick, raising the possibility that 2019-nCoV might have jumped from bats to snakes and then to humans at the start of the outbreak. 

There is no legitimate dispute over the fact that the cruelty inherent in factory farming also carries with it  health risks to humans.

The analog to the conditions that threaten disease, not only in Wuhan, but elsewhere in China and Asia, generally, would be such factory farming in the United States as the grossly unsanitary conditions, environmental pollution and inhumane living environment of most pig farms in North Carolina – many of which (Smithfield Farms) are actually owned by the Chinese

6.  Is it contagious between humans and if so, how is it transmitted? 

According to the CDC, the person-to-person contagion event could be due to “respiratory droplets” exchanged between people in close proximity, but this remains “unclear.” The infection is aerosolized by sneezing and coughing and can be taken in through the lungs and possibly also by touching a surface on which the virus has landed.

7.  Where were most of the cases of coronaviruses spread in previous epidemics? 

Much of the person-to-person transmission of SARS and MERS, for example, happened in hospitals, according to a 2017 study—through close, sustained contact, not casual interactions. “Transmission between family members occurred in only 13–21 percent of MERS cases and 22–39 percent of SARS cases,” researchers from the National Institutes of Health wrote in a paper.

8.  How serious could this become? 

That is unknown at this stage, but a lot depends on the success of the quarantine protocols and reporting of symptoms. As to the potential for death, Dr. Landon notes,

“The numbers are changing rapidly and we don’t yet have a clear picture of how many people have been diagnosed or how many have died. Without accurate numerators and denominators, the jury’s still out. That said, we do know that people have died from this virus. Based on the information I’m seeing, it looks very similar to SARS in a number of ways – except for the fact that it’s likely less deadly, but more transmittable.”

“Make no mistake, this is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. He added, however, that the spread of the virus “may yet become” an international emergency and that he would reconvene the panel if necessary.

What Dr. Ghebreyesus is alluding to is the contingency that 2019-nCoV may be carried and transmitted by “Super-spreaders”. Super spreaders, says Dr. Menachery, “are individuals who amplify transmission…this means these people spread it to double digit people on average.  We do not know why super spreading occurs, but we know the virus is not specifically different from super spreaders.”

9.  What about the United States? 

As far as the U.S. is concerned, health officials at the major international hubs for incoming flights from China and the other affected areas, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore, Thailand, Japan and South Korea, are on alert status and are conducting interviews with passengers.

Airports in New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), and San Francisco (SFO) are conducting  screenings and the CDC has stationed approximately 100 of their employees at these airports and will begin commencing screenings at Atlanta (ATL) and Chicago (ORD) airports this week. 

On Jan. 23, the CDC advised Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to Wuhan, China, after officials in that nation closed transport in and out of that city.

10.  What are the symptoms that are most common with 2019-nCoV? 

It characteristically displays flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough and congestion. Some patients – notably the elderly and others with other chronic health conditions – develop a severe form of Pneumonia.

11.  What about a cure?

At the present,  there is no cure or vaccine that has been identified for 2019-nCoV.  But since the virus has been genetically sequenced, a search for treatments is underway, which includes the possibility of a vaccine.

“There are no approved vaccines or therapeutics for any of the respiratory coronaviruses,” Menachery says, but adds that some studies preparing to enter the human trials phase “would likely be effective against this novel virus.” 

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is working on a 2019-nCoV vaccine with Moderna Inc., Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told S&P Global Market Intelligence on Jan. 21. The NIH is funding the bulk of the development

12.   The Flu shot? 

The flu shot that people are getting at the local pharmacy, the CVS, Walgreens or from their primary care physician’s office for the common strain of the flu, will not prevent you from contracting coronavirus. 

13.  Will wearing a surgical style facemask keep you safe from the Wuhan coronavirus virus, particularly if you’re heading to an airport like O’Hare where passengers are being screened for the virus? 

Dr. Landon advises:

Wearing a facemask is one way to help protect yourself during any kind of respiratory outbreak. It can certainly help keep droplets of other people’s mucous and saliva out of your mouth and nose. However, it’s still really important you clean your hands, avoid touching your face and make sure you swap out your facemask regularly. Otherwise you’ll eventually just get whatever’s on the outside of the facemask on the inside.   

infectious disease personnel at Chicago's O'Hare International airport wearing virus prevention masks to protect against the Novel Coronavirus.
Infectious disease personnel at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport

                                                                                                                         

14.  What other precautions are worth practicing?

Keep a bottle of hand sanitzer at the ready and / or wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water.  Sanitizers kill most bacteria, and fungi, and stop some viruses.  Alcohol rub sanitizers containing at least 70% alcohol (mainly ethyl alcohol) kill 99.9% of the bacteria on hands 30 seconds after application and 99.99% to 99.999% in one minute.

Those of you who value that thing that we Americans are so wisely addicted to – your personal space, are not as neurotic as your critics accuse you of being.

There’s also the standard advisories that we in the United States are already familiar with, which is to avoid consuming certain food items in their raw or undercooked state, such as milk, meat, eggs and shellfish.  Also maybe try not to be so shellfish all the time.

15.  What about the potential impact to the global economy and the American economy? 

Martha C. White, an economic reporter on NBCNews.com, poses the question in these terms.  “A big question on the minds of investors this week was if  or when – the new Wuhan coronavirus, which has sickened more than 900 people and proven fatal to 26, could become contagious enough to infect markets.”  

One answer from Rick Kahler of Kahler Financial Group, is that, “It just depends on the severity and the disruption that it causes. The local markets, especially in China, are going to be first responders.”

Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group, expands on this, saying, “Duration matters a lot. If this is a couple of weeks, it’s no big deal, but if it extends into months, this will definitely have an impact on GDP.”

Among the potential segments of the economy that could be impacted are the hospitality industry and high-traffic areas or tourist-centric stores such as cosmetic chains, shopping malls and restaurants assuming a worst-case scenario like the outbreak in 2003 of the SARS respiratory illness.

Now that you know the basics – spread the word, but avoid spreading anything else.

   

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