You may have recently heard or read about a new virus that is causing a stir in the media. We wanted to give you a briefer on what is going on and if you should be concerned.

  • The virus that is being discussed is called 2019-nCoV. It is one of seven known variants of the Coronavirus, which was discovered in the 1960s and is one of the many types of viruses that can cause the common cold, other types being rhinovirus, influenza, parainfluenza and RSV.
  • Coronavirus gets its name from how the virus looks under a microscope, it looks sort of like a crown.
  • The 2019-nCoV name comes from the date it was discovered (2019), n stands for Novel or “new”, Co stands for Coronavirus, and V stands for Variant.
  • There are seven variants of the Coronavirus, four of which are commonly known to cause Upper Respiratory Illnesses (URI) and three of which are not commonly associated with URI symptoms. These 3 are some you may have recently heard about:   MERS, SARS, and now 2019-nCoV.
  • Coronavirus is a zoonotic virus, meaning it is a virus that typically starts in animals (the “host”) and can then be transmitted to humans.
  • 2019-nCoV was first reported in the Wuhan City, Hubea Province, China.
  • There have been less than 100 cases reported worldwide but there have been at least 2 confirmed deaths and cases reported in 3 countries: China, Japan, and Thailand. The two cases in Japan and Thailand stemmed from travelers who had been in Wuhan City.
  • Most of the cases seem to be linked to a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan City, but some of the cases have not been to this market, suggesting there is some human to human transmission.
  • The two cases that involved deaths were from pneumonia that developed from the 2019-nCoV.
  • Chinese health officials have shared the full genome sequence (DNA) with the National Institute of Health (NIH) so that it can be put in the GenBank, which is a database that allows scientists from around the globe to study different viruses.
  • The CDC began screening passengers from Wuhan City on January 17, 2020, at the 3 major airports that receive travelers from this region of China.
  • Should you be concerned: As it stands, this is a very small outbreak and is concentrated to a single meat market in a single city in China, so unless you are visiting this meat market in China you shouldn’t be concerned. In the bigger picture, though, we need to monitor situations like this as it shows how new viruses can seemingly pop up out of nowhere and start causing problems.  If and when we get an easily transmissible and highly lethal strain of the virus, such as what happened with the Influenza Pandemic in 1918-1919, then we should be concerned and this is why the CDC and WHO continue to monitor cases like this.

JB Shreve and LynnDee Summers discussed 2019-nCoV and the mystery illness in China in a recent podcast episode from the End of History

Follow the End of History and watch for a new podcast series, Plagued – The Long Story of Pandemicscoming in February.

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