by Will Devaney ’23
An outbreak of a mysterious illness called the coronavirus is leaving thousands infected across the world. Originating in Wuhan, China, it is believed that the virus originated in contaminated fish at a local sea market.
Since the outbreak started in December, more than 6,000 people have been infected and more than 130 deaths have been reported. Although the vast majority of the infected are in China, several cases of the virus were reported in many neighboring Asian countries.
On Jan. 26, the United States’ fifth confirmed case of the virus was reported in Los Angeles. France and Australia have also confirmed cases of the virus.
Coronavirus can cause a variety of symptoms, from a cough and fever to severe pneumonia. Most of the fatalities in this most recent outbreak are older patients with preexisting conditions.
In most cases, the infection is transmitted only from animal to animal, but this Wuhan coronavirus can be spread by humans to other humans.
China’s National Health Commission Minister, Ma Xiaowei, told reporters that the virus is getting stronger and can spread much easier than previously thought. He added that people can spread the virus weeks before they even start to show symptoms.
In recent days, the Chinese government has dramatically ramped up its efforts to quarantine the virus by putting 16 cities on lockdown, affecting over 46 million people. The U.S. State Department has even ordered all its employees to evacuate Wuhan.
The virus strikes China during one of its busiest travel seasons of the year, the Lunar New Year. Even though most major celebrations have been canceled, millions of Chinese citizens will be traveling across the country, which may make the outbreak harder to control. The World Health Organization (WHO) is working rapidly to treat the infected and provide preventative care to those most vulnerable to the virus.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has made plans to travel to Wuhan this week. On Sunday he tweeted, “We are working 24/7 to support [China] & its people during this difficult time & remain in close contact with affected countries, with our regional & country offices deeply involved. @WHO is updating all countries on the situation & providing specific guidance on what to do to respond.”
This is not the first time a serious form of coronavirus has infected millions. From 2002-2003, the coronavirus SARS infected millions in China and spread globally before international efforts stopped the pandemic. In 2012, another form of the coronavirus, called MERS, emerged in Saudi Arabia allegedly from human contact with infected camels. Over 1,000 cases were reported and over 400 people died before the outbreak ended.
Per CNN, “By far the most important measures to stop the Wuhan coronavirus will be those related to hospitals and how well medical teams can contain the virus.” While top WHO officials and scientists do not believe the outbreak will stop anytime soon, there are actions that can be taken to stop the virus.