The infamous coronavirus is not a single virus but the name given to a group of viruses discovered in humans during the 60s. These viruses are able to infect mammals (cows, pigs, humans) and birds (chickens and bats). In humans, coronaviruses are responsible for mild respiratory infections, such as normal cold. Anyway, some strains are able to cause more serious diseases, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and the current Wuhan outbreak.
Why SARS, MERS and Wuhan outbreaks?
All of a sudden, a new viral strain is able to infect humans and be potentially lethal. In the recent years, this happened with SARS epidemic in 2002-2003, MERS in 2012 and Wuhan outbreak in 2020. In all three cases, zoonotic events are responsible for the outbreak: a virus able to infect one specie of animals gains some new features that allow it to infect other species. In this way, the virus is able to climb the evolution staircase and finally infect humans. To survive in a host organism, a virus needs “weapons” to breach in and hijack it. Like in a multi-level video-game, the virus cannot skip levels, because its weapons and tools are not developed enough to win the host organism, if too far as target. So, the virus upgrades through a step-wise process. Because a virus is not a thinking organism, this upgrade is not its reason-for-life, but rather a rare opportunity that is taken when available.
Some reassuring numbers
To date 3rd February 2020, according to the WHO, 17391 cases and 362 deaths have been recorded worldwide. The overall mortality rate is 2% (15% of the hospitalized cases). It is an early estimate, but quite reassuring, isn’t it? Overall mortality rate of SARS was 10%, of MERS 34%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (https://www.cdc.gov/), common flu is much deadlier than Wuhan coronavirus. CDC scores how many deaths are due to influenza and pneumonia in USA every week. In the first 3 weeks of 2020, 795 deaths were caused by influenza, and 7884 by pneumonia (in the USA only). In the same period, influenza and pneumonia together were responsible for 7% of all deaths in the USA.
Is the global panic about the Wuhan outbreak legit?
First, let’s make a distinction between panic and wise (and obligatory) precaution strategies. The isolation of the epidemic area and of people who are at risk of infection is a must, because everything has to be done in order to protect the world population and reduce the disease spreading as much as possible. This is taken care of by the governments. So what should people do? Recommendation is the same as for the normal influenza: stay at home if you are sick, wash hands often (especially after being in public places or on public transport), cover your mouth with the hollow of the elbow when sneezing. And don’t travel to epidemic areas, in this case.
Moreover, people are aware that Wuhan coronavirus is a new enemy and no vaccine is available yet. Probably we will overcome the outbreak without it, because it takes several months to develop an efficient one.
News are overloaded with updates about the Wuhan outbreak and learning that millions of people are isolated in China impresses our mind. To date, several countries welcomed back citizens who traveled in the infected areas and now have to spend few weeks in quarantine. This contributes to generate panic and also unjustified racism and embargo against Asian people and their products.
Following general guidelines provided us by governments and WHO is the best and only way to prevent the virus spreading and being infected. Panic and discrimination don’t help.
And no. Coronavirus has nothing to do with the beer.