What is coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus that can cause disease in animals and humans. Viruses enter cells inside 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 surrounded by a pointed shell that looks like a royal crown.
Wuhan coronavirus is a virus that had never been seen before this epidemic. It has been appointed SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name means severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the virus, which has killed about one in 50 patients since the epidemic began in December, is a “ sister ” to the SARS disease that struck China in 2002, and therefore bears its name .
The disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 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 them cause mild cold-like illness, but since 2002, there have been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and lead to more serious illness (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Syndrome Middle East respiratory system (MERS) coronavirus).
“Coronaviruses are known to sometimes be able to move from one species to another, and that’s what happened with SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known. ”
The first human cases were publicly reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, home to around 11 million people, after doctors began publicly reporting infections on December 31.
As of January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests have been developed for the new virus and the recorded cases have started to increase.
The first person died that week and, on January 16, two were dead and 41 cases confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had been infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
Scientists say the virus almost certainly comes from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate from animals – similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to originate from civets and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for investigation.
Although the market was officially a seafood market, other living and dead animals were sold there, including 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 samples of genetic makeup virus found in patients in China are 96% identical to 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 a bat before transmitting it to a human. . It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal it is.
Dr. Michael Skinner, virologist at Imperial College London, did not participate in the research but said: “The discovery definitively places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
“We still do not know if another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and perhaps even to bring it to market, or what species this host could have been.”
So far, deaths have been fairly low. Why are health experts so worried about this?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known and it seems to be spreading rapidly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed almost 800 during an epidemic in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus that infects human lungs. However, it is less deadly than SARS, which killed about one in 10 people, compared to about one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason to worry is that no one has immunity to the virus because they have never encountered it before. This means that it can cause more damage than the viruses we often encounter, like the flu or the common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor Dr. Peter Horby said: “ New viruses can spread much faster in the population than viruses that circulate all over the world. time because we have no immunity from them.
“Most seasonal flu viruses have a fatality rate lower than one in 1,000. Here we are talking about a virus for which we do not fully understand the severity spectrum, but it is possible that the fatality rate may reach 2%.
If the mortality rate is really 2%, it means that two out of 100 patients who suffer from it will die.
“My feeling is that it is lower,” added Dr. Horby. “We are probably missing this softer case iceberg. But this is the current situation in which we find ourselves.
“The 2% fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, so it is a major global concern.”
How does the virus spread?
The disease can spread between people simply by coughing and sneezing, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it can also spread before someone even has symptoms.
It is thought to travel in saliva and even through water in the eyes, so close contact, kissing and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, which means people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, it was believed that people caught it from a live animal market in Wuhan City. But cases quickly started to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced doctors to realize that it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus, it can take between two and 14 days or more for them to develop symptoms – but they can still be contagious during this time.
If and when they get sick, typical signs include a runny nose, cough, sore throat and fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover without problems and many will require no medical assistance.
In a small group of patients, who appear to be mainly elderly or suffering from long-term illnesses, this can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the inside of the lungs swells and fills with fluid. It makes breathing increasingly difficult and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures show that young children do not seem to be particularly affected by the virus, which they say is special given their susceptibility to influenza, but it is unclear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Chinese scientists have recorded the genetic sequences of about 19 strains of the virus and passed them on to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests, and potentially seek to treat the disease they cause.
Examinations have shown that the coronavirus has not changed much – the change is known as a mutation – during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director general of the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was changing and adapting as it spread through people.
This means that efforts to study and potentially control the virus can be complicated because the virus can look different every time scientists analyze it.
Further study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people and then changed and spread from them, or whether there were different versions of the virus from animals that have grown separately.
Is the virus dangerous?
The virus has a mortality rate of around 2%. This is a death rate similar to the Spanish flu epidemic which, in 1918, killed around 50 million people.
Experts have been in conflict since the start of the epidemic over whether the actual number of people infected is significantly higher than the official number of cases recorded. Some people are expected to have symptoms so mild that they don’t even realize they are sick unless they are tested, so only the most severe cases are discovered, which makes that the death toll seems higher than it actually is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China found that he had found no reason to believe this to be true.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said that there was no evidence that the figures showed only the tip of the iceberg, and that the seemed to be correct, Stat news reported.
Can the virus be cured?
COVID-19 cannot be cured and is 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 and then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and considerable sums of money.
There is not yet a vaccine against the coronavirus and it is unlikely that it will be developed in time to be useful for this epidemic, for reasons similar to those described above.
The US National Institutes of Health 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 it can take a year or more to develop, depending on Pharmaceutical technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and treat sick patients and prevent them from infecting others.
People who get the disease are quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated, and they will be kept away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are implementing screening measures such as having doctors on site, taking temperature of people to detect fevers, and using thermal screening to spot people who might be sick (the infection causes an increase in temperature).
However, it can take weeks before symptoms appear, so there is a low probability that patients will be spotted at an airport.
Is this epidemic an epidemic or a pandemic?
The epidemic was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the “global spread of a new disease”.
Previously, the UN agency said that most of the cases outside of Hubei had been “overflowed” from the epicenter, so the disease was not actively spreading around the world.