Lifestyle: The Wuhan coronavirus, facts and figures
07 Feb 2020
With the help of The Guardian, Wikipedia and The New York Times we put together this list of facts on the new coronavirus discovered in Wuhan, China.
What does this new virus look like?
The name, corona, is Latin, meaning crown or halo and you can see how they got that name from the radiating spikes in the picture above.
- This new (to us) virus causes pneumonia in humans with the associated coughs, fever and breathing difficulties we recognise as pneumonia.
- Milder cases may resemble a bad cold or the common flu, making detection difficult.
- The pneumonia is viral, so antibiotics don’t work. There are no anti-viral drugs that work at this stage either.
- The ability to recover from the virus and survive depends upon the strength of one’s immune system. Many of those that have died were already in poor health. It appears to be hitting older males the hardest with few cases in children.
- This new coronavirus is being called the novel coronavirus. ‘Novel’ as in new. Novel is just a placeholder as it doesn’t have a name yet. Its scientific name is 2019-nCoV.
- Coronaviruses were first discovered in the 1960s, firstly in chickens and then two from the nasal cavities of humans suffering from the common cold. Since then we have a SARS coronavirus outbreak in 2003 and a MERS coronavirus outbreak in 2012 amongst a number of others.
- The most recent common ancestor of all the coronavirus is placed around 8000 BC so they are very old.
- Coronaviruses have co-evolved with bats for a long time and have only recently jumped the gap onto humans. This is likely to have occurred in the wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, China where both live and slaughtered animals were offered for sale, including wildlife.
- SARS was a very destructive virus killing around 10% of all those affected in 2002/2003. It killed around 750 people worldwide.
- MERS in 2012 was harder to pass from human to human but it killed 35% of people affected.
- The mortality rate for this coronavirus at this stage appears to be around 2% but this is likely to be an over-estimate as there may be many more people infected by the virus that are not suffering severe enough symptoms to go to hospital and therefore won’t have been counted. On the other hand, there will be people who will die in the future who haven’t been counted yet. The WHO notes that around 20% of people with the virus develop a severe illness while around 2% die.
- Common influenza kills at the rate of around 0.1% of people infected every year.
- It has been difficult to determine the true number of people affected with the Wuhan coronavirus as it takes up to 2 weeks for any symptoms to present. The World Health Organisation is suggesting as many as 100,000 people may be infected worldwide. Officially there have been more than 20,000 people infected in China with 425 dead. In comparison, there were only ever around 5,000 people infected with SARS.
- Viruses that spread easily, like the common cold, tend to have a milder impact. It is not known yet how easily transmissible this new virus is nor what proportion end up severely ill.
- This new virus can be transmitted before an infected person displays any symptoms. This makes it nearly impossible to contain. Hence the draconian.
- Seasonal flu typically has a death rate of around 1% and kills around 400,000 people worldwide each year.
- This virus is likely spread from person to person by cough and sneeze droplets of saliva or mucus. These droplets can be directly inhaled through the nose or through the eyes or transferred by hand to the mouth. Some guidelines define exposure as being within six feet of an infected person for more than 10 minutes who is sneezing or coughing.
- The first line of defense is regular washing of your hands with clean running water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds, then rinsing and drying. The use of masks doesn’t seem to be fully supported by the experts.
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- Doctors say that the treatment for this virus is like many others. “Rest and drink plenty of fluids while the immune system does its job and heals itself.”