As the world just wrapped up welcoming a new year in January, a respiratory virus, commonly called the coronavirus, broke out in Wuhan, China. The virus formally referred to as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has killed over 1,000 people and has infected over 31,000 in mainland China.
On Feb. 7, over 70 new deaths were reported within the last 24 hours. Sixty-nine of the newly reported deaths occurred in the Hubei Province, where the outbreak first started. The virus has also spread internationally to other countries; as of Feb. 7, there are 12 confirmed cases in the U.S.
Officials in Wuhan have set up quarantine shelters for those with the virus who show milder symptoms, but these may not protect against the risk of further infection. In addition to the quarantine, the city that accounts for about 50 million people is in travel lockdown.
According to the CDC, American citizens who have been in China within the past 14 days are allowed to enter the U.S. after undergoing health screenings and quarantine. Depending on their health and their travel history, they will have some level of restriction over where they go and what they can do for 14 days in the time they left China.
“[The CDC] was explaining why they’re not calling this a worldwide pandemic yet because pandemic usually means people around the world are being infected, but because right now all those cases stem from one region they’re going back to other regions and potentially infecting [them],” said nursing professor Dr. Nanci Reiland. “They’re still calling it an epidemic with a concentrated focal being in the Wuhan region.”
After contracting the coronavirus, people first experience cold-like symptoms, which can include fever, cough and shortness of breath. In the most severe cases, coronavirus can cause kidney failure and pneumonia, which can lead to death.
“It’s those that are the very young, the older, those that have immunocompromise, like HIV or cancer treatment; they’re likely going to be more impacted, just like how they would be with a normal cold or a flu, so it’s likely those who are succumbing to the virus [are in these groups],” said Reiland. “[The coronavirus] generally affects the upper airway, but when it gets into the lungs is when it can cause pneumonia and, I believe in some of the early reports, were that when people were dying from it, likely the elderly population, they were actually having a kidney failure that was actually caused by it.”
Since the strain of the coronavirus comes from a large family of viruses commonly found in animals such as camels or bats, it was initially believed that the coronavirus present in humans was started in Wuhan seafood markets where animals like snakes or bats were present. While some scientists believe there is a link between bats and the coronavirus, it cannot be fully confirmed whether the origins of the disease are actually credited to bats.
Other forms of the coronavirus include the MERS and SARS diseases, which saw fewer deaths than the novel coronavirus. In the coming weeks, the Chinese government will continue to monitor the current coronavirus outbreak with aid from the World Health Organization, who are seeking international aid and support.