What is a coronavirus, and where does it come from? These include a large number of viruses common in animals but that in some cases may spread to humans. For instance, SARS was a coronavirus thought to have originated in civet cats (a nocturnal Asian mammal). There is some speculation that this new Coronavirus (COVID-19) may have originated in bats in Wuhan, China at the live food market. In answer to your next question, yep, some people may eat bats.
How does it spread? If this disease was only limited to those with a culinary affinity for flying mammals, then it would have likely remained relatively isolated; however, COVID-19 appears to have developed the ability to spread from person to person. This transmission appears to mostly occur via spread of respiratory droplets affecting those within up to 6 feet of the infected individual, so please cover your mouth when you cough. Transmission may also occur through fomites (things people touch with their dirty hands), though, so be sure to wash your hands regularly. In fact, this latter form of spread has become enough of a problem in China that they may be considering destroying currency (money) in circulation and printing new yuan (bills).
What else can be done to limit the spread of coronavirus? In addition to handwashing and good hygiene, the government is limiting travel to and from affected areas. Recent travelers and those with confirmed cases are also being held in quarantine as affected individuals may not show symptoms for up to 2 weeks. While putting your life on hold for a couple of weeks of mandatory isolation may sound aggressive, it’s certainly not as intense as the North Korean government’s reported execution of an official who broke quarantine by going to a public bath after returning from China.
What hasn’t worked to limit transimission of coronavirus? Use of surgical masks on a day-to-day basis hasn’t been proven to reduce infection frequency except in health care workers regularly exposed to the virus. Also, despite the name, there is no association of the virus with Corona beer.
Well, just how big of a problem is the coronavirus? At this point, over 70,000 people have been reported infected, and a little under 2,000 have died, or approximately 2.5% of those infected. 2.5% mortality would place it as somewhere more deadly than the flu, which kills only 0.1% or so of those infected, but much less lethal than Ebola, of which some outbreaks are fatal in 90% of infected individuals. That being said, the actual death rate may be either higher (many of the 70,000 infected individuals are still sick and may still die) or lower (many mild cases may be present and not ever diagnosed). Even so, 2.5% mortality would be “nothing to sneeze at” if the number of infected individuals becomes high enough. For instance, the flu typically infects 3 million people in the US each year, and a similar number of coronavirus cases would cause the death of 75,000 people.
So, what is the take home message from all of this? At this point, we haven’t seen any cases of coronavirus in this state yet, but that could change in the future. Continue to use good health hygiene, limit your and your family’s exposure to sick individuals, and continue to keep an eye on the news for updates.