The Spread of the Coronavirus



Sim Saini

At the end of December 2019, the spread of a new coronavirus began. As of now, this virus has spread throughout China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, and it has now been found the United States of America. Within a matter of weeks, more than five hundred people have been infected. This disease has even been proven to be deadly for seventeen people. But what exactly is it, how did it start, and how can infection be prevented?

The coronavirus belongs to a virus family known Coronaviridae. It looks like spiked rings that form a halo around their viral envelope under an electron microscope, hence the name being Coronaviridae. Coronavirus contains a strand of RNA within its envelope; the virus needs to get inside a cell so it can reproduce and hijack the machinery within. The spikes on the viral envelope help them bind to cells, giving them a way in. It is as if they blast a door open and take over to start a virus factory, and from there they produce and send out more viruses (virus progeny) to infect other cells and start the cycle over again. 

Usually, these types of viruses are found in animals, but when transmitted to humans, they can be deadly. When they infect humans, they can cause high fevers, respiratory illness, and inflammation in the lungs. In immunocompromised victims, such as the elderly or individuals with HIV-AIDS, diseases like coronavirus can cause very severe and deadly respiratory illnesses. Most symptoms seem very similar to any other upper respiratory infection, including a runny nose, sore throat, and coughing. Due to this, individuals may be unable to determine whether they have the coronavirus or other cold-causing viruses. 

The only way to specifically know if you have coronavirus is by getting lab tests such as nose and throat cultures or blood work is done. As of right now, only the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are able to test for this virus and accurately diagnose it. However, individuals may not even think to see a healthcare official to get these tests done, as they may only see their symptoms as being a common cold. This can be partially due to the fact that individuals are not informed enough about the coronavirus to realize that they are in any danger. 

The most recent coronavirus — the 2019-nCoV — was first reported from Wuhan City to the World Health Organization on the 31st of December. They were told Chinese people were being infected with pneumonia-like symptoms according to China’s National Health Commission. Chinese scientists have linked the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, the same family as deadly SARS and MERS viruses. 

According to officials, the original source of this coronavirus may be a wild animal sold at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, although the exact animal has not been located yet. The disease was transmitted from animals to humans which continued to spread throughout the population of the Hubei province. This is evidence that the new coronavirus is highly contagious. For example, the healthcare workers treating a patient with the coronavirus all ended up contracting the virus as well. 

The contagiousness of the new coronavirus can be problematic as the city of Wuhan is considered to be a major transportation hub; it has an international airport — with flights going to over 60 international destinations — and a center for China’s high-speed rail network. Additionally, with the Lunar New Year approaching, officials are worried that travel plans may lead to more spread of the virus. Although certain prevention measures had been placed, the disease still managed to spread to more than twenty provinces in China and has continued to spread outside of China too. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention started screening passengers arriving in the United States from Wuhan City on January 17, 2020. However, the screening started too late, as someone who had contracted the virus arrived in Washington on January 15. He was placed into isolation as soon as doctors determined he did, in fact, have the coronavirus. However, he had already been in close contact with at least sixteen other people before his quarantine. According to officials, patients are not considered contagious until they start displaying symptoms; therefore, the sixteen people are not placed into isolation but are being actively monitored. 

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that they “expect additional cases in the U.S.” Therefore, it is necessary to take some precautions. These include washing your hands frequently with soap and water and avoiding close contact with anyone who may seem sick. If your symptoms seem to exceed those of the common cold, it would be best to see a healthcare specialist. 

As of now, there are no treatments, such as vaccines, for this type of coronavirus. Scientists, however, are trying very hard to make a cure and find treatments for this disease. One scientist has already begun research for treatments by evaluating the cause of pneumonia and how it prevents antibiotics from working after the symptom kicks in. “What we know is it causes pneumonia and then doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, which is not surprising,” Leo Poon, a virologist at the School of Public Health at The University of Hong Kong, said.

There has been a lot of concern being expressed online but it hasn’t spread to the ground level yet. There haven’t been signs of people taking very drastic measures as they did with the SARS, such as buying private vehicles so taking public transportation wouldn’t be necessary or sealing off university campuses. The reaction may change in the next one or two weeks, particularly if the government steps up the level of public awareness on this issue. Some reporters say that face masks are being used very heavily now on public transportation and are already sold out in some online stores. If this issue increases, the economic consequences could be serious, especially if public transportation is given restrictions. Though, some may argue that it would be a price well worth paying.