A recently-discovered respiratory disease has been threatening world health at a rapidly growing rate, with tens of thousands around the world currently infected.
First found in Wuhan City, China in late 2019, the respiratory disease is one of seven known coronaviruses that affect humans. These six other coronaviruses have been known and studied since the 1960s, with this newly discovered coronavirus being the latest addition to the list.
The disease, which is related to the 2003 pandemic virus SARS, has most recently been given the title COVID-19.
Believed to have originated partly out of China’s wet animal markets where live animals are stored and sold, COVID-19 has slowly grown to infect around 64,500 people and kill 1,380 of those infected.
Dr. Sarah Neal, a professor in the school of nursing, explained that symptoms associated with COVID-19 are related to that of the common cold: fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
“What tends to happen is in day three and into day four of the illness, you will see a spike in pneumonia present,” said Neal. “That’s what’s taking people down and killing them. It quickly becomes this massive infection and the organs then shut down.”
Dr. Neal went on to explain that the sickness has gotten out of China’s control, and the country does not have the public health infrastructure to respond to the overwhelming need of infected citizens.
Diagnosing every citizen that is sick is not a possibility either. Many that are sick may be staying home or are continuing to work, which means they are not being accounted for.
“It’s really hard to calculate case fatality rates, which is how we measure how bad a disease is,” said Neal. “It’s hard to measure if we do not have accurate numbers.”
The growth and spread of COVID-19 outside of Asia are reliant on the disease’s ability to become pandemic.
“There are three things needed for something to be considered a pandemic, pandemic meaning worldwide,” Neal explained. “The first is a novel, or new, disease. The second is that it’s able to cause severe disease, and we have already had a lot of deaths with this one. The third one is a person-to-person transmission that is sustained.”
Sustained transmission is not currently common outside of Asia.
More locally, the United States has recently been affected by COVID-19 with no deaths being reported as of yet.
“Here in the United States, we have about 15 cases,” said Neal. “There’s not a tertiary case and a quaternary case, it’s one person and possibly a close contact. So it’s held in check there. All of the things we are doing in the United States are keeping things in check. We are rapidly identifying people that have come in contact with people from that region of China and we are keeping those people in quarantine. We’re isolating people that are sick.”
Dr. Neal went on to explain that the general incubation period for those that are sick is 14 days.
To avoid potential contact with COVID-19 and sickness in general, Dr. Neal suggested keeping good hygiene practices, staying home when feeling ill and getting an antiviral shot if one has the flu.
“The important thing about the media is to not induce panic,” said Neal. “Here in the United States, there is no sustained person-to-person transmission. The worst thing people can do is go out and buy all the facemasks, which aren’t even protective of viruses. The people who need the masks are those that are sick. The thing we need to do is keep our hands clean, wash our hands and be careful about touching our faces.”
A vaccine for COVID-19 is still far from out, with most sources predicting that one will not be ready for the public until the Fall of this year at the earliest. Diseases are usually predicted and are grown before the disease is prevalent, as the usual timetable to grow a vaccine for a disease is a year.
“We’re nowhere near done with this,” Neal explained. “It’s probably going to last through the upcoming months and maybe into next year, much beyond our normal flu season.”
For more information on COVID-19 and its continued growth across the world, refer to the World Health Organization’s and CDC’s websites.