Although it’s easy to jump to conclusions, the chances of one of us contracting the new coronavirus is close to zero at the moment (which is also what we thought about the chances of contracting mumps on campus, but we digress). Still, the outbreak itself is something you should be paying attention to as it begins to take hold of traveling populations across the globe.
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are able to be transmitted from animals to humans, similar to the swine and bird flus that affected North Carolina in the last decade. The December outbreak began in Wuhan, China and spread to cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. At the moment, nearly 300 cases have been reported in China, and six individuals have died from infection in Wuhan alone.
It is presently known that this particular strain of coronavirus likely causes pneumonia, and it's suspected to be antibiotic-resistant. The virus boasts symptoms of a common cold, with mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illness.
For individuals who are immunosuppressed, young children or the elderly, the virus poses a much greater risk and can turn into something more serious, like bronchitis or pneumonia. Researchers and medical professionals believe the illness spreads when people come in contact with bodily fluids from someone who is already infected.
The outbreak has been linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which had a mortality rate of around 10 percent. SARS, the virus that coronavirus is thought to originate or mutate from, was an illness first reported across Asia in 2003. It later spread to two dozen countries in the Americas and Europe before finally being contained by medical professionals. It infected over 8,000 people and killed 774 individuals, all of whom had been traveling to countries where SARS was prevalent at the time.
SARS and other similar coronaviruses have been studied extensively for more than a decade, and another strain has been expected by medical researchers for a while now. The current question is still up in the air: How long until we are able to come up with a successful treatment plan for infected patients?
With the first reported case in Washington state, government officials have already started cracking down on preventing the virus from making rounds across the United States. Screenings for the illness have been expanded in major airports across the U.S., including in San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles.
The World Health Organization is on the verge of deciding whether or not the coronavirus can be considered a public health emergency. In response, hospitals across the country, including Vanderbilt Medical Center, have been prepping to care for patients who have recently been traveling to countries at a greater risk of the virus.
If the coronavirus outbreak is anything like its predecessor, it’s something to keep an eye on as we move deeper into flu season. The likelihood of catching the virus in Chapel Hill is something that we wouldn’t personally place bets on. But with the strength of the influenza-like flu this year in North Carolina, and a case of mumps on campus already, we couldn’t be too sure.
Regardless, it doesn’t hurt to keep your hands clean, to stay home when you are sick and to make sure you have your flu shot.
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