When you think of medical terms — viruses and diseases what comes to mind? HIV, AIDS, SARS, COPD — yeah a lot of abbreviations. Coronavirus has an abbreviation too, although with this one, it’s easier to just say the name of the thing. But enough of that. You didn’t click on that header just to pop over here for an English lesson.
If you’re like me, you’re generally interested in just about everything… Everything that is, except strains of viruses and diseases emerging from foreign lands.I never get too worked up about these sorts of things, primarily because my professional life does not throw me on a plane often enough to think about anything exotic.
I commute to work in my own car, work in a small office, and live in a city that is 100x more isolating than NYC, Las Vegas, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., or Boston. My exposure risk is relatively low. I know I’m not the only one who thinks “Coronavirus? Not this guy…”
Naturally that makes me the perfect person to tell you all about this Coronavirus — given that about 48 hours ago I was somewhat ignorant about pretty much everything except; “There’s this coronavirus coming from mainland China. It’s so bad that a whole province has been placed under quarantine, but only after about 5 million people escaped.” That’s it, that’s what I had heard, and all I had read.
Of course the fact that work now might have me on a plane in a few weeks changed everything.
So I did the google thing. No kids, this isn’t fake news. This is real news, on real science.
Coronavirus; “it’s not just one virus.”
Also, Earth; “it’s not flat.”
Coronavirus is actually a large family of viruses. You’ve heard of SARS, yup that’s a Coronavirus. (The 2003 SARS outbreak also emerged from China and was believed to be about 8,000 cases and 800 deaths.)
So how do you know if you or someone else has it? That’s the tricky part. “Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.” You know what my first reaction was when I read that? “Thank g-d I got a flu shot this year. I’m good right?” Seriously, this new Coronavirus looks and sounds like the flu. I mean, I know how to handle that. Wash my hands, cough into my elbow, make sure I eat food that’s been fully cooked. Done. Except sushi, man do I love sushi.
Between us; I wash my hands more these days cause not because it’s preventative, but more so I now hate when they feel dirty and dry. So I’m good, right? I mean dude, I wash my hands on average more than just about everyone I know (who is not a doctor).
Nope. Not so much. This is a new “novel” strain of the coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans (this new one is called nCoV). Symptoms are so similar to normal flu symptoms it makes them difficult to spot. Oh and there isn’t any immediate vaccination for it — not yet.
Granted, Chinese authorities did share the genetic sequence of 2019-nCoV early in January to support (the diagnosis of) potential patients around the world, and to help with the creation of vaccines against this new virus (omg it’s like opensource for medicine).
Because in our world we use science to fight diseases.
If it looks so similar to the flu, why is it such a big deal? Well for starters it’s a new illness that doctors have never seen before. You know what else was a virus that humanity had never seen before humans contracted it from primates? Ebola. Now it’s not Ebola level bad, but it’s very serious. Why? Because the virus is contagious even before symptoms appear. Again, there’s no vaccine. And since this is a new strain of coronavirus, we don’t know what we don’t know, so precautions are extremely important — as doctors learn more preventative guidelines will evolve.
The source of the outbreak was believed to be a fish and live animal market in Wuhan. Chinese authorities have confirmed that the coronavirus can also be spread through human-to-human contact. Germany and Japan have confirmed domestic transmission of the virus from a person who had recently visited Wuhan to someone who had not visited the city or China in general.
This Coronavirus story is hard to keep up with because new developments keep coming out. For instance earlier today, Hong Kong reported its first death from the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s only the second reported outside mainland China. For those of you unfamiliar with China, it’s not all landlocked. Hong Kong is an island. Hong Kong has 17 confirmed cases of the new strain of Coronavirus. Four of which are highly likely to have been transmitted locally. Hong Kong’s top official has ordered all but three of Hong Kong’s entry points closed, and the central government said it will stop issuing individual entry permits to people from the mainland.
Per the NYTIMES: The number of cases and deaths in China continue to rise fast. Britain and France advised all of their citizens in mainland China to leave if they could. And South Korea’s Hyundai automaker idled factories because Chinese supply-chain problems. Macau says it will close its casinos for two weeks. Japan has quarantined a cruise ship with 3,700 aboard.
Toll so far: 425 deaths and 20,438 confirmed cases as of Tuesday — roughly double the figures from four days earlier. More than 180 infections have been confirmed in two dozen other countries and territories. Of the patients that have died in mainland China, more than 80% were older than 60 and more than 75% had an underlying health condition that put them at greater risk. 2/3 of fatalities were men.
A large scale outbreak has not been ruled out by officials. You can track the status of the virus around the world here.
Patients are advised to present themselves to a healthcare professional if they have the above symptoms, doubly so if they have been in mainland China within the past two months. Following a consultation, the patient will then undergo laboratory-based diagnostic testing for the virus.
Look, I’m not going to lie. The number of deaths from influenza alone absolutely dwarf the numbers coming in thus far for the novel Coronavirus. In the US, our CDC claims that approximately 80,000 people died of flu-related deaths in 2018. But the flu is the devil we know. We all know the medical community is doing everything it can to prevent the spread of the flu — the evidence is everywhere. And chances are your doctor or pharmacist even offers free vaccinations during flu season.
This novel Coronavirus though not yet reaching the same numbers, has the capacity to do the same, and possibly even worse. Until we have a clear and readily available vaccine you have one job. Stay vigilant, wash your hands, fully cook your meat, your eggs, and don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you have any inkling you might have been exposed to the virus — or any virus…