By: Shoshanah Marcus
A deadly virus that originated at a local seafood market in the city of Wuhan, China, now has the potential to become a widespread, and even global, epidemic.
The first case of a severe pneumonia-like virus was reported in Wuhan on December 31, 2019. In less than a month, over 8,236 people have contracted the virus and the death toll is steadily increasing, with at least 171 reported fatalities. In an attempt to stop the spread of this virus, China has issued a lockdown in Wuhan and the surrounding cities, stopping travel in and out of the cities and isolating about 56 million people. Though no deaths have been reported outside China, the virus has spread to four continents, including the United States in North America, which tremendously increases a potential widespread impact. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the global risk of the coronavirus is “very high in China, high at the regional level, and high at the global level.”
This strand of the coronavirus is considered “novel,” meaning it has never been encountered before in humans. The virus, typically found in animals, has adapted to infect humans. Other widespread cases of the coronavirus have killed 10% to 35% of people who had been infected. Examples of different strands of the coronavirus include Ebola, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), and the flu.
Not much is known about how this strand causes infection and there is currently no vaccine or direct treatment for the virus. Health officials claim that its symptoms include fever, coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, bronchitis, and, most commonly, pneumonia. Though the primary means of transmission are contact between animals and humans, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued that virus can be spread between people through close personal contact, airborne transmission, and contact with other objects containing the virus. However, experts have found that most people who died were already in poor health. Unfortunately, due to the wide range of medical reactions experienced by people who have this virus, it is almost impossible to calculate the number of people who have been infected and therefore even harder to stop the spread.
Chaim Nissel, Yeshiva University’s Dean of Students, issued a mass statement advising students on how to protect themselves from contracting the virus. He strongly recommends that those who develop symptoms should “seek medical care right away, […] avoid contact with others, […] stay home if you’re ill and isolate yourself from roommates or classmates, […]c over your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing, […] wash hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds,” among other things.
Though this virus may seem distant and irrelevant to us, it is important not to be ignorant and to take proper precautions. Undertaking habits of basic hygiene and an awareness of the coronavirus may limit the spreading of the virus.
To track the location of the virus, Johns Hopkins University has created a live dashboard showing the spread of the coronavirus. https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6