With news that the coronavirus called 2019-nCoV is capable of spreading from human to human, many are concerned about the possibility of a new pandemic, and that is not outside the realm of possibility, according to Jeff Hogan, a professor and infectious disease expert at the University of Georgia, who studied the SARS coronavirus extensively.
Below, he shares some of his thoughts on the current outbreak, how people can protect themselves and what the future may hold for 2019-nCoV.
What is a coronavirus?
"This is a virus that belongs to the family called Coronaviridae. For a very long time, the 'human' coronaviruses were thought to cause only mild to moderate respiratory tract infections unless a person has other medical conditions such as a suppressed immune system. This changed when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus was isolated in 2002 and 2003.
"Based on the limited data available currently, this new outbreak is caused by a virus called 2019-nCoV that is different in many ways from the virus that caused the 2002/2003 pandemic. However, both viruses are very likely to have originated from bats, recombined with coronaviruses from other animals, and this gave 2019-nCoV the ability to efficiently infect and transmit among humans. It is important to note that further research is need to confirm the origin of 2019-nCoV."
How do coronaviruses spread?
"As with influenza, RSV, and other respiratory viruses there are several routes of infection. Small to large droplets aerosolized when an infected person sneezes or coughs, and these can be inhaled into the nose and lungs. The aerosolization is thought to be the primary route of virus entry. However, droplets containing viruses can also be deposited on hard surfaces and persist for several days. A person can then touch a contaminated surface and self-inoculate by inserting their fingers in their nose, mouth, or possibly eyes. I call it 'the magic finger' route."
Are certain populations more susceptible/at risk for complications?
"Populations most at risk typically have one or more underlying medical conditions such as a suppressed immune system. Persons over the age of 50 with diabetes, HIV infection, and kidney or liver problems generally presented with the most severe disease after SARS-CoV infection in 2003. This may also be the case for 2019-nCoV, but additional data are needed to confirm this." Related Stories
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