By David Amirsadri
If you follow current events, then you are likely familiar with the recent coronavirus outbreak in China. The situation has garnered a significant amount of attention and concern, hence the necessity for clear thinking and thorough analysis of the facts. What exactly is coronavirus? How dangerous is it? What are potential treatments for its sufferers? All of these are questions that must be considered in order for informed public policy choices to be made.
At a very basic level, coronaviruses are a virus group common in many animal species. Seven viruses in the family are known to affect human beings, and produce a wide range of symptoms in affected persons. These can include everything from colds to pneumonia. Direct contact with individuals who have been affected– often at distances of only 3 to 6 feet– are responsible for the spread of the virus, though the virus tends not to survive for very long outside the human body. The novel variant currently in the news, SARS-CoV-2, was first detected in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Borne of bats, the virus induces a disease dubbed “coronavirus disease 2019” (COVID-19). Symptoms, according to the World Health Organization, include difficulty breathing and lesions (damaged tissues) on both lungs. Though the spreading mechanism of the particular coronavirus variant in question is not entirely known, the virus is “likely spread by droplets and contaminate surfaces, and possible airborne [spread],” notes Vanderbilt virologist Dr. Mark Denison. So far, the virus has been responsible for over 1,800 deaths in China, and over 70,000 people in more than twenty countries worldwide have been affected by the virus. As such, the situation has been declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by WHO.
Currently, proper hand-washing is one of the most effective means of combating the spread of the virus. As Christian Lindmeier of the World Health Organization notes, “Self Protection is still the best possible way we can go about this. This virus behaves flu-like, and as it behaves flu-like, you can also protect yourself against someone having the flu.” This comparison to influenza is important in illustrating the importance of clear thinking in matters pertaining to public health– though there are reported cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, the flu remains a greater threat to most Americans. Individuals can empower themselves in this fight. None of this, however, negates the importance of new therapeutics and public policy interventions in combating the coronavirus. Currently, the CDC has acted to limit travel to countries greatly affected by SARS-CoV-2, and has quarantined individuals who have recently traveled to mainland China. Further travel warnings to other Asian countries have been issued. Even the corporate world has responded to the outbreak, with major international airlines having limited flights to China. Currently, NIH and the biopharmaceutical industry are collaborating to develop vaccines for the coronavirus. Currently, the biopharmaceutical firm Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases are beginning preliminary human testing of a new coronavirus vaccine. This particular vaccine was developed quite rapidly, and it remains to be seen how it affects human subjects in upcoming clinical trials.
Now more than ever is it necessary to demonstrate that international institutions can act together for the greater good of humanity. Though occurring under unfortunate circumstances, the response to the recent coronavirus outbreak demonstrates the importance of national and international actors in the public and private sectors working together to solve complex problems.