At the end of 2019, a never seen before virus, COVID-19 (Coronavirus) was identified in Wuhan, China. This novel virus has and is continuing to spread across the globe, resulting in an “epidemic,” which is threatening to soon be labeled a “pandemic.” (UPDATE: Officially ruled a pandemic by the W.H.O on March 11, 2020)
What is the difference between an “Epidemic” and “Pandemic”?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an epidemic is “an increase, often sudden, in the number of cases of a disease above what is normally expected”. The WHO states that a pandemic is “the worldwide spread of a new disease” or as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts it, “an epidemic that has spread over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people”. While these definitions seem vague, as of now the WHO claims that the coronavirus is currently an epidemic with “very high” risk of global spread.
As of March 20, 2020, more than 234,000 COVID-19 cases have been reported globally, amounting to over 9,800 deaths. The total rate of cases and deaths has decreased in China. However, outside of China, the rate has increased. The global rate of new cases is now about 20,000 per day, resulting in about 1000 new deaths.
As of today, we have had 10,500 confirmed cases in the United States. A total of at least 150 deaths have also been confirmed. It would be inaccurate to assume death rate from these statistics as many individuals living with the virus may have not been officially diagnosed, with this in mind, experts believe the death rate is much lower than many believe.
These numbers are updated regularly on this post and at the WHO situation reports page.
How is the Coronavirus Spread?
Experts are unsure at this time exactly how this virus is spread. Person-to-person spread of this magnitude is usually via respiratory droplets, like influenza. We have been able to isolate coronavirus RNA (genetic material similar to DNA) from respiratory droplets, blood samples and stool specimens from infected individuals.
After gathering the coronavirus RNA, we looked to see what it resembles genetically and found this strand of coronavirus linked most closely to two different bat species. This makes bats a likely primary source. There have been reports that the pangolin (a scaly anteater) is the likely source, however there was a miscommunication amongst the lab group and researchers of that study that has discredited this theory.
Information regarding the origin of this disease is valuable as we could use it to prevent the spread as well as prevent future outbreaks.
Pneumonia is the most frequent serious manifestation of this infection, with symptoms of fever (most common), cough and difficulty breathing. Many individuals may even be asymptomatic (with no symptoms).
It is thought that the incubation period is about 5-14 days, meaning that once you are exposed to the virus, you will likely begin to feel the symptoms in a week or two.
Although many people have been infected, the virus is mild in 80% of cases, 15% are severe and 5% are considered critical according to a Chinese CDC report. Only 2-4% of cases result in death.
According to the WHO, recovery time ranges from 2-6 weeks, depending on the severity of the disease.
Do I Have the Coronavirus?
The CDC has issued clinical criteria for our doctors to follow in order to have reason to test for the COVID-19 virus. In order to complete the criteria, you must inform your doctor about your occupation (ex. healthcare worker), if you have had known exposure to the virus, or if you have recently traveled to an affected geographic area within the past two weeks. This includes China, Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran. At this time, you will also likely get tested if you have a severe acute respiratory illness such as pneumonia or ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). However, it is important to understand that we have limited testing kits available at this time.
What Would Happen If There Was a Positive Test?
Following a positive test, the victim exposed would be hospitalized and put into” airborne isolation,” which is alone in a room with negative air pressure.
The patient will not be able to leave until their symptoms resolve and they test negative for COVID-19 on two separate occasions at least 24 hours apart.
How Can I Prevent the Coronavirus?
The WHO advises that we should thoroughly wash our hands, cover our mouth with our elbow when we cough, sanitize surfaces and avoid close contact with ill individuals as well as live or dead animals.
Wearing a mask has not been shown to be effective for prevention of respiratory illnesses, unless the person wearing the mask has a respiratory illness. Therefore, if you do not have an active respiratory ailment, wearing a mask in the community is NOT advised.
Can I Still Travel?
In the United States, there is currently a complete travel ban on Iran. Also, the travel advisory urges Americans to avoid nonessential travel to China, Italy, and South Korea. People returning from these countries will also be required to enter through certain airports, undergo screening for signs of illness and be monitored by health officials for two weeks.
Why Should We Be Concerned?
People are stocking up supplies at their local Costco, the stock market is dropping, large corporations are cancelling conferences and professional athletes are refusing to travel and sign autographs.
Should we be this concerned? After all, there are 20,000-60,000 influenza related deaths each year!
The reason for concern does not fall on sheer numbers, but it’s the unpredictability of the virus that is frightening. We know that the flu comes at the beginning of fall, ends at the conclusion of spring, will dissipate each year and reoccur next year with genetic changes.
Will the Coronavirus Just Continue to Spread?
Attempts are being made to contain it so that those affected won’t transmit the virus and eventually recover in a few weeks, but those efforts have been relatively inefficient to date.
Is a Coronavirus Vaccine Being Developed?
We are currently processing a vaccine; however, it will take a year or more to create and gather accurate information regarding its efficacy and possible side effects. This is because organizations will need to form and gather information from clinical trials. If the vaccine is effective mass production and distribution may also take upwards of a year to finalize.
Let’s say we do develop an adequate vaccine, could we distribute it to the less fortunate countries around the world? Will it be effective? How much will all of this cost?
Many questions remain to be answered amid this current health crisis. Despite this uncertainty we should be confident that we will control and eliminate COVID-19 as we have done with other epidemics/pandemics in the past.
The facts above are verified by the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control, however they are subject to change at a moment’s notice.
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