The deadly Wuhan coronavirus has claimed 1,527 lives and more than 67,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus around the globe as of Wednesday. The death toll for the virus has officially eclipsed that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002.
CNN reports that the confirmed U.S. cases so far include a man in his 30s in Washington, a woman in her 60s in Chicago, a man in his 50s in Orange County, a patient in Los Angeles County, another in the state of Arizona, and more. Those who have recently traveled to Wuhan, the most heavily populated city in Central China and the site where the virus was first detected, are considered to be at the highest risk. Additional cases have been reported in Japan, Australia, Singapore, and other regions.
As international concern surrounding the virus continues to rise, we take a look below at how this all started and what's currently being done in an effort to prevent further spreading of the resulting infection that's now being said to potentially be "much more contagious" than initially believed.
What is the coronavirus?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) is a virus "identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China."
Many of the initial patients in the Wuhan outbreak had signs suggesting an animal-to-person spread, though subsequent patients have had no such exposure. This indicates a person-to-person spread, says the CDC, who added in their rundown on the coronavirus that they've determined it's still "unclear how easily or sustainably" the virus is spreading.
Symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The symptoms may start to manifest within as little as two days (or as far out as 14 days) from exposure.
How does it spread?
As touched on above, this virus is widely believed to have started via animal-to-person transmission, though that has since grown to person-to-person. The CDC says person-to-person spreading can occur "on a continuum," adding that it's still not clear how easily 2019-nCoV can be spread in this manner:
When person-to-person spread has occurred with MERS and SARS, it is thought to have happened mainly via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread
Health officials have confirmed an estimated 42,638 cases of the virus worldwide, with the current death toll at 1,016 in mainland China. Two deaths have been reported outside of China. Li Wenliang, described by CNN as "the Chinese whistleblower doctor" who first warned of a possible "SARS-like" disease late last year, was reported in February to have died of coronavirus in Wuhan.
Unfortunately, some online have taken fast to xenophobic or otherwise offensive comments about foreign delicacies as the coronavirus story takes shape. As the Daily Dot noted this week, Chinese blogger Wang Mengyun recently issued an apology for eating a bat in a 2016-era video that has since resurfaced. She also pointed out that the clip in question was not filmed in Wuhan.
How have political leaders and others reacted?
The U.S., France, and other countries are actively attempting to get their citizens out of Wuhan, where only specially permitted vehicles are currently allowed. This week, Trump—who, unfortunately, remains the POTUS—said his administration had been in "close communication" with officials in China. Furthermore, Trump said via Twitter, the U.S. is "strongly on watch" with experts he deemed "extraordinary."
However, as Vin Gupta (an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Washington) explained in a recent NBC News op-ed, the Trump administration has actually placed the U.S. emergency response infrastructure at risk.
Gupta points out that the current response system was put in place during the Obama era following the Ebola virus reaching the U.S. in September 2014. While this system currently "operates so seamlessly that it often goes unnoticed," Congress is now weighing the option to institute a "far more scaled-down version" that Gupta says isn't as comprehensive. Instead, if implemented, it would focus on maintaining "only a few" advanced care facilities across the country with the ability to administer coronavirus treatment to patients in scenarios like this.
"This reduction in preparedness makes no sense and puts Americans needlessly at risk," Gupta said.
What’s being done?
On Monday, the World Health Organization sent a team of international experts to China to help contain the outbreak, according to CNN. This "advance team" is set to "lay the groundwork for larger international team" who will accompany them in the country ASAP, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Presently, no vaccine for 2019-nCoV exists. The CDC instead recommends avoiding exposure to the virus while also practicing general preventive measures in everyday life including hand-washing, refraining from touching one’s eyes and nose and mouth with unwashed hands, isolation when sick, covering one's mouth when coughing, etc. Travelers, meanwhile, are being urged to avoid "all nonessential travel" to China.
And in China, disinfecting stations and a "disinfectant tunnel" have started popping up as part of an effort to prevent further spreading.
Stateside, the CDC is actively monitoring the virus and is working with a variety of state, local, and international partners to battle further spreading. A 2019-nCoV Incident Management Structure was launched on Jan. 7, followed on Jan. 21 by the activation of the agency's Emergency Response System. The World Health Organization is also involved.
On February 11, the WHO and the UN health body announced that the virus has been renamed to COVID-19.
The WHO says the new name "purposefully avoids references to a place or groups of people, to help fight stigma."
For the CDC's extended guide on the 2019 novel coronavirus, click here.