HOW COVID-19 CAME INTO EXISTENCE
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus that emerged in China in December 2019.
COVID-19 symptoms include cough, fever and shortness of breath. COVID-19 can be severe, and some cases have caused death.
The new coronavirus can be spread from person to person. It is diagnosed with a laboratory test.
There is no coronavirus vaccine yet. Prevention involves frequent hand-washing, coughing into the bend of your elbow and staying home when you are sick.
The new coronavirus (Covid-19) is spreading fast. More than 272,000 people are known to be infected and over 11,300 deaths have been recorded – including 177 people in the UK who were diagnosed with the virus.
While the outbreak started in China, the bulk of cases and fatalities are now outside the country and the virus is spreading internationally.
What is a coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven, including the new virus, have made the jump to humans, but most just cause cold-like symptoms.
Two other coronaviruses – Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) – are much more severe, having killed more than 1,500 people between them since 2002.
The new virus, officially called Covid-19, is also dangerous – so far, around 20 per cent of confirmed cases have been classed as severe or critical. So far, around 15 to 20 per cent of hospital cases have been classed as “severe” and the current death rate varies between 0.7 per cent and 3.4 per cent depending on the location and, crucially, access to good hospital care.
The coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China, is baffling experts searching for the source. Since the virus is considered novel, it’s a type of virus that has never been encountered before.
Coronaviruses are named for their crown-like shape, and were first identified in the mid-1960s. The virus typically causes respiratory illnesses like the common cold.
In the beginning, many of those infected worked or shopped at a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan, China, which also sold live and freshly slaughtered animals. This is why experts suspect it crossed to humans from an animal host.
Did coronavirus come from pangolins?
According to Chinese state media, researchers at South China Agricultural University have analyzed over 1,000 metagenome samples of wild animals to find pangolins, a type of anteater, are the most likely intermediate host of the novel coronavirus.
“They found that the sequence of the coronavirus strain assembled from metagenomes was 99 percent identical to that of infected people in the recent coronavirus outbreak,” reported state media.
Shen Yongyi, a professor with the university and member of the research team, told the Xinhua news service that although previous research found the novel coronavirus originated in bats, the animals hibernate in winter, making it unlikely that they caused the current outbreak.
However, the actual study hasn’t been published. So far, the university has only issued a press release.
“The evidence for the potential involvement of pangolins in the outbreak has not been published, other than by a university press release,” said Professor James Wood, PhD, Head of Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge in a statement. “This is not scientific evidence; investigations into animal reservoirs are extremely important, but results must then be published for international scrutiny to allow proper consideration. Simply reporting detection of viral RNA with sequence similarity of >99 percent is not sufficient.”
Bats may be the original source of the virus to humans
According to study authors, the infection could still have been passed to humans through an intermediary animal. A previous study theorized that it went through snakes before being passed on to humans.
“Although our phylogenetic analysis suggests that bats might be the original host of this virus, an animal sold at the seafood market in Wuhan might represent an intermediate host facilitating the emergence of the virus in humans,” wrote the study authors.
Bats have an unfortunate history of passing potentially deadly pathogens to human hosts.
A 2017 article in NatureTrusted Source explains how virologists identified a single population of horseshoe bats harboring virus strains with all the genetic building blocks of the SARS virus that jumped to humans in 2002. That worldwide outbreak killed almost 800 people.
Research published “Trusted Source in Emerging Infectious Diseases confirms that many African bats are also reservoirs of the incredibly dangerous Ebola virus.“Whenever a species jumps, whenever a virus jumps from one species to another — that species will not initially have a well-developed immunity to the virus. As time passes our ability to fight the new virus increases,” Dr. Waleed Javaid, Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Mount Sinai in New York, told Healthline.
Previous coronavirus outbreaks
A recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published in January found that “increased preparedness is needed at animal markets and other animal facilities, while the possible source of this emerging virus is being investigated.”
“We already have structures of the virus. I think it should be emphasized how rapidly the scientific and medical community is now geared to respond to these things,” said Dr. Asim Ahmed, a pediatric infectious diseases attending physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and Senior Medical Director, Karius Inc.
Ahmed confirmed that every time we go through an outbreak of this type, there are systems in place from previous occurrences. “So we get structures, we get isolation in a virus; they’re already talking about developing vaccines. A little bit is getting the genetic information, the sequencing will be critical. With the sequencing of different strains, you can assess the population and transmission dynamics of what strain came from where, because the sequence ties the virus to its origin.”
What can we do to avoid infection with Wuhan virus?
People in China are desperately trying to get their hands on face masks, believing that wearing one will protect them from exposure to droplets sneezed or coughed out by those infected with the Wuhan virus.
Ahmed said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending good hygiene, and telling people to stay home from work if they’re sick. “And if they’re sneezing or coughing to do so appropriately, like coughing into their sleeves instead of into your hand, because if you cough into your hand you can spread that around.”
He emphasized the importance of cleaning hands, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available. Also, to avoid close contact with people who are sick and to routinely disinfect surfaces.
“The other thing is to avoid touching your eyes, or your mouth, because those are areas where you can directly transmit pathogens into your body,” Ahmed said.
The new virus first identified in Wuhan, China, is a type known as coronavirus. Like previous outbreaks of SARS and MERS, it probably jumped to humans from an animal. Researchers have found evidence it may have originated in a bat, but then a second animal like a snake or a type of anteater called a pangolin may have transmitted it to humans.
Although the virus can have severe effects on people now, experts say that this can diminish over time as our immune systems adapt.
Efforts to contain the virus aren’t perfect, but they’re the best health officials can implement without infringing excessively on people’s rights.
Experts emphasize that it’s too soon to tell what will happen, but governments and healthcare facilities are gearing up to deal with the emergency.