There’s a new beast in town and it has caught the world off guard. A new strain of Coronavirus, called the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), broke out in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Since then it has spread like fire as authorities struggle to contain it. According to the Johns Hopkins virus dashboard, on a global scale some 24,607 people have been infected by this so far (the figure may be higher as many countries are still trying to track people and test them). Maximum of these cases are in China.
What’s scary about the Coronavirus is that its mortality rate is high – the death toll in China itself now stands at 563 (and rising). The virus has been further reported to be spreading globally, reaching 20 places outside China, and been declared as a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The 2019-nCoV is one of the seven different strains which was discovered after the first one was found in animals. The Novel Coronavirus is a part of a family of viruses that live exclusively in animals. However, what makes this particularly lethal is that is it a zoonotic virus – meaning that it spreads from animals to humans, as was the case in the epidemic caused by SARS coronavirus in 2002, which spread from bats to civet cats and then humans in the Guangdong province of South China. Similarly, the MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome virus caused more then 800 deaths. Identified in 2012, this virus too was believed to have spread from bats to camels and then to humans in Saudi Arabia.
According to a study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases, the 2019-nCoV shares 80% of its genetic code with the SARS Coronavirus. Also, as per recent reports from Wuhan, China, the 2019-nCoV seems to have likely spread from bats to mammals, mainly pigs or civet cats, and then to humans. However, conclusions also suggest that the Novel Coronavirus could have made a direct jump from bats. According to a first study led by scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the Novel Coronavirus might have made the jump to humans from the animals at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, which was closed down in January 1, 2020.
According to Vincent Munster, a virologist at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, only beta Coronaviruses can make the transfer from an infected animal to humans and nest in their respiratory tracts. He said that the reason for this is because not all Coronaviruses have the same shape.
The Coronavirus is interspersed with spike-shaped proteins that help it attach to a host’s cell. If these spike-shaped proteins do not fit the receptors on a potential host’s cells, the virus is unable to mutate. However, if spike-shaped proteins are a fit they mutate and alter their shape sometimes allowing the virus to dock in a new host.
Additionally, it was also stated by Zheng-Li Shi, the lead author of a study that examined seven virus samples, that both the SARS and 2019-nCoV can anchor to the ACE-2receptor, deep in people’s lungs, which explains patients’ pneumonia-like symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that symptoms of the 2019-nCoV can show up anywhere between 2-14 days after exposure. Symptoms in people infected with the Novel Coronavirus are indistinguishable and similar to other minor respiratory infections like runny nose, sore throat, fever, cough, and fatigue.
Some preventive measures that can help prevent the spread of the 2019-nCoV viruses are as follows:
- Always your hands after touching your pets, going to the bathroom, coughing, blowing your nose, sneezing, before eating your meals, or after coming home from outdoors.
- In case, you are in a situation where you might not have soap or water readily available for use, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Keep unwashed away from your nose, mouth, or eyes.
- Stay away from sick people as much as possible and keep a distance when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and throw it away in the trash. It is also advised to sneeze into your elbow if a tissue is not available close by.
- Frequently touched objects and surfaces should be regularly cleaned and disinfected with a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
It is critical that people and health agencies follow the right protocols. While the virus has spread to over 26 countries including China, proper hygiene and prevention are key to containing the deadly virus. Scientists and health experts are trying to understand what medicines would work to cure this. The small mercy is that this strain resembles genetics of the SARS Coronavirus, for which researchers have been working on to find the right cure and drugs, and are also trying pre-clinical vaccines. This could really help in curbing the 2019-nCoV. Furthermore, it has been found that patients infected with the 2019-nCoV are already producing antibodies to fight and neutralize the bacteria and viruses.