February 21, 2020—The novel coronavirus first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China in late 2019 has since spread throughout China and to many other countries, including the U.S. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency. Here’s what we know so far.
What is coronavirus?
According to CBC News, coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause illnesses like the common cold as well as more severe respiratory diseases like SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). The specific virus strain we are currently tracking has been named SARS-CoV-2, and the resulting illness is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Where did the outbreak start?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) information page, evidence suggests that the virus may have originated in a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, first spreading from animal to human. However, the virus has since spread rapidly throughout China and beyond through person-to-person transmission.
Where has it spread?
COVID-19 has infected more than 75,000 people in China, with the greatest concentration of these being in the Hubei Province where the virus originated, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracking map, which is updated daily. Small numbers of cases have been confirmed in at least 26 other countries, including 33 cases in the U.S. and eight in Canada. To date at least 2,245 people have died with just nine of these deaths occurring outside China.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship carrying 3,700 passengers and crew was recently placed in a two-week quarantine in Japan after COVID-19 was found on board. So far 621 passengers have been diagnosed with coronavirus, making this the largest concentration of infection outside China, and two elderly passengers have died, according to The New York Times. As the quarantine comes to an end, some health officials are concerned that the spread of virus may still be a risk among passengers due to improper protocol during the quarantine. The New York Times reports that 328 Americans were evacuated from the ship, but these passengers will remain in quarantine in the U.S. for an additional 14 days. Eighteen of the 33 U.S. cases are in people evacuated from the ship who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Most at risk for infection are those living in or traveling to China. CNN reports that 780 million people in China (nearly half of the population) are living under some form of travel restriction in an effort to contain the virus. The U.S. government has issued a Level 4 Travel Advisory for China, and U.S. citizens returning from Hubei Province are placed under a mandatory 14-day quarantine. The U.S. has also restricted entry of all foreign nationals who have been in China in the past 14 days and will direct all flights from China to selected airports that are prepared to handle additional health screening protocols, according to The New York Times.
How does it spread?
In an informational video from CBC News, Dr. Peter Lin, a family physician in Toronto, explains how SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted and how it causes illness. According to Dr. Lin, the novel coronavirus attaches to lung cells where it then replicates itself, causing respiratory disease that can become serious and, in some cases, fatal. In order to spread, the virus must reach our lungs. Dr. Lin explains, “Just like all viruses, it needs to reach a target, which is your lung, and it has to get there with your help. It has no feet and no wings, so therefore it needs us to move it there.”
Close contact with an infected person who is coughing or sneezing may allow you to breath the virus in, or touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face will allow the virus to possibly find its way into the lungs, spreading the infection from person to person. This is why surface disinfection is an important aspect of controlling the outbreak. Review GBAC’s latest tip sheet for more on coronavirus disinfectants. Watch Dr. Lin’s complete informational video below to learn more about the virus.
What are the symptoms?
According to Dr. Lin and the CDC, early signs of the virus are cold and flu-like symptoms including fever and cough, and mild cases may never progress further than this. However, as the virus replicates in a patient’s lungs, the respiratory symptoms worsen, leading to decreased lung function and shortness of breath. In some cases, especially in patients who are elderly or immune compromised, the respiratory disease may become severe and could lead to death. The CDC says that symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure.
What is the treatment?
Currently there is no direct treatment, vaccine, or cure for COVID-19, according to the CDC. Much like the common cold, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure, and treatment for the infection is supportive, meaning the symptoms are treated while the body’s immune system fights the virus. According to Dr. Lin, some of these supportive treatments may include fluids, oxygen, and in severe cases, support for vital organ function.
How dangerous is coronavirus?
A study from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that SARS-CoV-2 is more contagious than both SARS and MERS, which accounts for the large number of cases seen in China. To date there are more than 75,000 cases in China in just a few months, compared to 8,098 cases of SARS diagnosed worldwide from November 2002 to July 2003.
Although the novel coronavirus is more contagious, it is also far less fatal than either SARS or MERS, which had fatality rates of 9.6% and 35% respectively. According to CNN, Current evidence indicates that COVID-19 has a fatality rate of 2.3%, and officials expect that the true rate will actually be even lower once all of the data is accounted for.
By comparison, seasonal influenza has a fatality rate of 0.1%, but affects tens of millions of people every year. Coronavirus is currently not as contagious or widespread as the flu, so the risk of infection outside China remains low. However, in the event that coronavirus does become a global pandemic, a fatality rate of 1%-2% would be significant.
On January 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). To meet the criteria of a PHEIC, an event must present a public health risk through the international spread of disease and require a coordinated, immediate international response.
Keep checking back for all of Cleanfax’s news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak, and be sure to visit the ISSA resource page, www.issa.com/coronavirus, where you can access all of GBAC’s coronavirus tip sheets and other current information about COVID-19.