What is the coronavirus?
The new coronavirus, officially the COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan Province, China in December, 2019. It was confirmed as a new and distinct strain of the coronavirus on the 7 of January, 2020.
The coronavirus is actually a broad family of closely related viruses that include the generally mild common cold and flu, to the more serious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
A strain of coronavirus that displays symptoms like the common cold typically affects the upper respiratory system. The more serious strains of the coronavirus, like the SARS-CoV, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS‐CoV) and now the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), cause severe lower respiratory tract disease, with more flu-like symptoms, which can lead to pneumonia.
The coronavirus family of viruses are actually named after their microscopic appearance, as under the microscope they appear crown-like.
Origin and Transmission
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they move between animals and humans. For example, the SARS-CoV, which was first identified in February 2003, was transmitted to humans from Himalayan Palm Civets (Paguma larvata) and one Racoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) that were being kept in a live animal market in China. Subsequent research identified that the SARS-CoV may have actually originated from wild Chinese Horseshoe Bats (Rhinolophus sinicus), with the Himalayan Palm Civets and Racoon Dog only acting as carriers.
The MERS‐CoV, which was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, was passed to humans from the domesticated dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius). While the route of transmission is poorly understood, camels younger than 2 years old tend to be more acutely infected with MERS‐CoV than adult camels.
In terms of the new COVID-19, no wild or domesticated animals have been confirmed as hosts or carriers so far, however the majority of initially infected individuals were connected with the Huanan South China Seafood Market,either as workers, handlers or frequent visitors, where live animals were kept. The Chinese Government banned wild animal markets temporarily in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Risk of infection is highest when in contact with an infected person during the 24 hours that symptoms begin. The COVID-19 transmission occurs mainly via respiratory droplets, such as when people sneeze, cough, or exhale. The virus can also survive for several hours on surfaces such as tables and door handles.
Coronavirus in Context
Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the flu (caused by various strains of the coronavirus) kills between 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. In the United States alone, during the 2017-2018 season, approximately 61,000 deaths were linked to existing strains of the coronavirus.
The current status of the COVID-19 can be tracked through the World Meter. At the time of writing, there are more than 150,000 cases worldwide. More than 70,000 have completely recovered, with a further 70,000 in mild condition. There is a 93% survival rate, with the elderly and the sick identified as the most vulnerable.
The survival rates for COVID-19 are much much better than for the SARS and the MERS‐CoV. The MERS‐CoV was particularly aggressive, as approximately 35% those affected not survive.
Regular hand washing is the best defence, as well as social distancing to stop the spread of the disease. But if you do catch the COVID-19 – chances are – that you will be fine.
Centre for Disease Control
Dromedary camels and Middle East respiratory syndrome: MERS coronavirus in the ‘ship of the desert’
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-like virus in Chinese horseshoe bats
World Health Organisation