A new virus has captured the attention of public health officials around the world. The coronavirus has been dubbed 2019-nCoV. It causes a potentially deadly lung infection with symptoms of pneumonia (fever, bad cough, difficulty breathing). At last count on Friday, it has killed 41 people in China. An unknown number have been infected.
What Do We Know About the New Virus?
This virus first emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Originally, Chinese investigators linked it to a seafood market there that also sold animals and birds. It has now spread to other cities in China and beyond, with the first case reported in the US earlier this week. The World Health Organization is keeping an eye on the virus. Investigators have confirmed that it can be passed directly from one person to another. People who remember the SARS virus, another coronavirus from China that caused severe acute respiratory syndrome, understand why public health experts are concerned.
China Restricts Travel on Holiday Weekend:
The Lunar New Year is this weekend. In normal times, millions of people travel to their home villages in China to celebrate with family and friends. People also undertake foreign travel during this vacation time. As a result, the coronavirus might possibly be transmitted even more widely. Several airports in the US are screening travelers arriving from Wuhan directly or on connecting flights. Chinese authorities have shut down public transport in Wuhan and nearby cities. Approximately 35 million people will be prevented from leaving these districts. They are also discouraging large gatherings over the Lunar New Year holiday. Public health authorities elsewhere are skeptical that these measures will truly stop viral dissemination.
How Can We Fight Back?
The CDC is working with the National Institutes of Health to see whether it is feasible to develop a vaccine that would protect people from this new virus. A team of scientists developing an antiviral drug from a banana-derived compound are hopeful that it will be effective against this coronavirus as well as the influenza virus they have been targeting. In the meantime, experts recommend not visiting live animal markets in China.