Brian is an aspiring writer that focuses on creating informative pieces that revolve around health education.
The Coronavirus has spread its influence to countries across the world and health officials believed that it first started in Wuhan, China. From initial investigations, the findings seem to indicate that the virus may have originated from the ‘Huanan’ wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, where people can buy an assortment of wild game meat. The Chinese government allowed the sale of live wildlife in these wet markets, whereby locals can freely purchase some regulated 54 species of animals which may range from civets, badgers, hedgehogs, snakes, turtles and other varieties that are quite exotic.
The Chinese authorities are trying to zero in on the starting point of this virus, and they are focusing their research at this particular market in Wuhan. In order to put a stop on the spread of the disease, the Chinese authorities have since shut down the market and imposed a nationwide ban on wildlife trade in markets, supermarkets, restaurants, and e-commerce platforms, although it may seem a little too late as the virus has already been transmitted to humans.
So, why are the authorities adamant that the Coronavirus might be linked to the Huanan wet market?
It all started back in December 2019, whereby there was a series of cases in Wuhan featuring pneumonia-like illness and people were showing up in the hospital being severely sick. The patients that were treated had a fever and did not respond to regular treatment and it was determined that many of the patients are in some way linked to the Huanan wet market, whether they have visited the place or been in contact with people that did. This was the first signal of an epidemic emanating from one spot and once the health officials figured it out, they proceeded to isolate the virus and ended up tracking it to a virus originating from bats transmitted to humans.
In the face of the spreading epidemic, a study was conducted by a team co-lead by Weifeng Shi, a professor at the Key Laboratory of Etiology and Epidemiology of Emerging Infectious Diseases in Universities of Shandong Province, allied with Shandong First Medical University. In their study published on 29 January 2020 in the journal ‘The Lancet’, the researchers analyzed 10 genome sequences of the novel Coronavirus, which was also identified as 2019-nCoV, gathered from nine patients in China who were sick with the virus. The result showed that all 10 of the genome sequences were almost identical - they shared more than 99.98% of the similar genetic sequence. The finding was a critical indicator that the virus was transmitted to humans just lately.
The novel Coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan has so far killed 722, and the infections have risen past 34,000 people. Authorities have not yet confirmed the specific animal species that infected humans with the virus, but scientists in China compared the genetic code of the novel Coronavirus to other coronaviruses and found it to be of two bat coronavirus samples. The group of scientists that edited the Journal of Medical Virology stated that the intermediary species that could have transmitted the virus to humans would most likely be the Chinese cobra. This is backed by the research findings from the genetic examination proving that the genetic building blocks of the novel Coronavirus looked like that of snakes. Based on the findings, the researchers contemplated that a population of bats could have infected snakes, which passed the virus to humans as they were being sold at the wet market.
On account of the SARS plague and presumably this novel Coronavirus outbreak as well, bats were believed to be the original hosts. The virus is transmitted from the host to other animals via several means such as their poop or saliva, and the unwitting intermediaries transmitted the virus to humans. Bats and birds are viewed as reservoir species for viruses with pandemic potential. In fact, bats have been the source of at least almost four pandemics that have terrorized the world population. In the past 45 years, at least three different pandemics (other than SARS) have been linked back to bats. Bats were the original source of Ebola, which claimed the lives of 13,500 people in numerous epidemics since 1976; the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, which can be found in 28 countries; and the Nipah virus, which has a 78% casualty rate.
The novel Coronavirus and the SARS epidemic of 2003 have two things in common; the virus is confirmed to originate from the same family and both were likely passed from animals to humans in a wet market. These two viruses are zoonotic diseases, meaning they spread to humans from animals. When humans and the infected animals whether dead or alive come into contact, it is relatively easy for the virus to make an interspecies jump. In the case of the Huanan wet market, the environment offered an exceptional opportunity for the virus to be transmitted from the wildlife hosts to the human population.
We must know that not all Coronaviruses are deadly – the ones endemic to people, like the common cold are regularly viewed inconsequential. The Coronaviruses that is a pandemic hazard are those that originate from animals. Since these viruses are foreign to the human body, hence, specific immunity to these viruses is absent in humans, preventing the human body to fight off the deadly effects of the viral infection.
How does the Coronavirus spread?
The 2019-nCoV Coronavirus spreads from person to person in close proximity, and having close contact with an infected person or staying like over two meters over a period of 30 minutes or more. The Coronavirus works like any other respiratory disease, such as the flu. A person has a high chance of getting infected should they come into contact with any amount of body fluids from the infected person, such as saliva or mucus that is dispersed in the air or on surfaces resulting from a cough or sneeze. Scientists have proven that coughs and sneezes can travel several feet and stay suspended in the air for up to 10 minutes. For now, it is not yet known how long Coronavirus can survive outside a host but, in other viruses, it ranges from a few hours to months.
Who is at risk of becoming infected with the virus?
From the initial case, many of the infected patients were over the age of 40 and those that died from it were found to have numerous underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The highest fatality rate was found to be among those who were aged 80+ and above. This being said, it does not mean that young or healthy individuals escape from the probability of getting infected as some of the cases recorded do involve otherwise healthy young people.
What are the symptoms of the novel Coronavirus?
Well, it can include any of the following; a fever, a running nose, a dry cough, and a sore throat which can lead to shortness of breath. In some severe cases, patients will need to be hospitalized to receive treatment to monitor their condition. The incubation time of the Coronavirus, referring to the length of time before symptoms appear is somewhere in the range of one and 14 days. Although it is not yet confirmed, the Chinese health authorities believe that the virus can be transmitted even before symptoms appear.
It is known that 1 in 5 cases can become severe leading to pneumonia, kidney failure, or acute respiratory distress syndrome that requires mechanical ventilation and in some cases, can even cause death. As of now, the novel Coronavirus has a mortality rate of 2%, which means that 2% of people infected have sadly died from it. On the bright side, it also means that 98% of those infected are still surviving and may have the chance of getting better should the cure for it be found on time. The casualty is much less than that recorded during SARS with a mortality rate of 10% or even Ebola which has a mortality rate of 70%. It is important to remember that the deduction is based on the current information available at this point in time, in which the numbers could change without an absolute certainty given the fact that there are patients undergoing treatments at hospitals currently.
Can the novel Coronavirus be treated?
Unfortunately, there is no treatment or vaccine currently available for the Coronavirus. However, patients that display the symptoms will be treated individually depending on the extent of their symptoms which will determine the forms of treatments to be administered. One comforting news is that scientists are working hard to formulate a vaccine to cure the Coronavirus. In terms of personal care and prevention, travelers returning from Wuhan or the Hubei province of China in the last 14 days should stay indoors at home and avoid contact with other people. It is also advisable to contact the local authorities and keep them informed of your recent travel trips. Should you experience any of the symptoms of Coronavirus such as fever, running nose, dry cough, sore throat, and shortness of breath, do avoid contact with people, stay indoors and contact your local authorities for advice.
What should I do to protect myself from the virus?
The easiest and most effective way to avoid catching the disease is by washing your hands thoroughly; wash the back of your hands, between your fingers, under your nails and make sure you scrub for at least 20 to 30 seconds. If you have not washed your hands after being outdoors, do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth. In the event that you are about to cough or sneeze, use a tissue and remember to not cough into your hands directly. In the absence of tissue, you may direct the cough or sneeze into the inner side of the elbow, whereby it will not contaminate your hand. Subsequently, rinse your elbow and wash your hand thoroughly after doing so. You may use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you do not have immediate access to soap or water.
Should you need to be outdoors or pay a visit to any medical institution like hospitals, be sure to keep yourself safe by wearing a mask to prevent coming into direct contact with the droplets that carry the viruses. Be sure to use a surgical mask as it can help block large-particle droplets and splatter from coming into direct contact with your respiratory system and mucous membrane. Although expert has admitted that wearing a mask cannot prevent one from catching the virus 100%, it is better to take the necessary precaution to minimize the probability of infection.
It is also wise to avoid crowded areas, and people who need to travel to China should be extra careful and take extreme precautions to avoid getting infected by practicing good personal hygiene and limit movement to areas that are heavily affected by the virus. It would be best to avoid contact with wild animals and poultry at this point in time to reduce the risk of catching the virus.
The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading around the world and raising fears of a global outbreak.
Brian (author) on February 09, 2020:
Yes, indeed it is. The outbreak has definitely created a lot of panic waves amongst the worlwide population. It's best to take precaution to safeguard from being exposed to the threat.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 09, 2020:
This is a fast developing and tragic situation. We have 4 cases in the UK and others quarantined, who have been brought back from fhe affected province in China.