Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak and its Implications


Dylan Wu


The Coronavirus outbreak has become the latest global pathological threat and a source of fear for many. The World Health Organization (WHO) does not yet consider it a global health emergency but acknowledges the precarious nature of the situation. “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China, but it has not yet become a global health emergency,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “We are completely committed to ending this new coronavirus outbreak as soon as possible. And I will not hesitate to reconvene the committee at a moment’s notice.” 

Chinese authorities have identified 600 infected and 17 dead individuals from the virus, which was newly discovered on 12/31. However, disease modeling experts from London’s Imperial College believe the numbers in China’s report to be underestimates, and that up to 4000 people may be infected. From Wuhan, it has spread to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and the U.S.

The Coronavirus describes a family of viruses causing respiratory infection. There are seven in total, including the new Wuhan “2019-nCoV” strain. One of the more well-known strains is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which was behind a deadly outbreak from 2002 to 2003, infecting 8,098 people and killing 774. Another example is MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), which was first identified in 2012 and is yet another recent and ongoing coronavirus outbreak, with cases reported as recently as this week. The 2494 cases and 858 deaths of MERS all occurred in the Arabian peninsula. However, the Wuhan coronavirus has never been seen before in people.

Scientists are not yet certain how deadly the Wuhan virus is. The case fatality rate, determined by taking the number of deaths [17] and dividing it by the number of infected [600] is just under 3%. However, this statistic is meaningless, as they do not know how many people are actually infected and will die in the coming weeks. It is probable that one is more likely to die from the coronavirus if he or she is older and suffer from other diseases.

The initial cases of 2019 nCoV are linked to Hua Nan Seafood Market in Wuhan. It is assumed that like other coronaviruses, this strain spread to humans through direct contact with animals (dubbed a “spillover incident”); this would make markets a likely breeding ground for the virus, as shop owners and customers deal with live and dead animals that are sold for food. For example, ebola (though not a coronavirus) likely spilled over to humans from bats and nonhuman primates, MERS spilled over to humans from camels, and SARS spilled over from palm civets, small mammals considered a delicacy in China.

Wuhan Market shut down on 1/1, but more cases have been identified since, confirming that the virus can spread from person to person There is a theory that the initial transmission of 2019 nCoV was from snakes; similar strains of the coronavirus were found in both species, but scientists are unsure if it can jump from cold-blooded to warm-blooded hosts. The method and ease of transfer have not yet been determined, but currently, 15 health workers in Wuhan caring for sick patients have also become sick and people who never visited the seafood market have become infected.

Coronaviruses usually spread through sneezing and coughing of the infected; as such, face masks may help in preventing infection. A mask with respiratory valves is recommended to be more effective than simple surgical paper masks, though any barrier to the nose and mouth is better than none. Frequent handwashing is also recommended since infected droplets may contaminate surfaces.

According to the CDC, the health risk to the general American Public “ is considered low at this time”. There has only been one US case of a man in Washington with mild pneumonia that is recovering well, according to the Department of Health. The biggest risk for infection is for people living around or traveling to and from Wuhan. The CDC advises doctors to look out for SARS and MERS symptoms–fever, cough, and difficulty breathing–as potential signs of infections. Hundreds of millions of people traveling to and from China during the Lunar New Year could accelerate the outbreak.

The 2019-nCoV virus has also negatively impacted the global economy. Goldman Sachs has estimated that reduced travel to and from China has caused lower oil prices, especially from jet fuel. China saw the biggest fall in its stocks in the last 5 months, as qualifying matches for the 2020 Olympics were moved out of Wuhan and seven films to premiere over Lunar New Year weekend were suspended to prevent large crowds.

As of now, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for the virus; however, Moderna, a manufacturer of mRNA vaccines, received a grant from Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) to start developing a new vaccine for the Wuhan strain. Meanwhile, global governments are doing everything to stop further spread of the Coronavirus. As of now, flights and passenger train services to and from Wuhan are shut down, and two other Chinese cities, Huanggang and Ezhou, are on lockdown. In the U.S., all passengers arriving from Wuhan will be routed through international airports in five cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta) and screened for the disease.