Coronavirus (COVID-19): Why is this pandemic happening now?
Jack McCarthy | March 23, 2020
The ongoing novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) outbreak was first identified in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, and was recognized as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. The disease it causes has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”).
Since this virus is new there is no worldwide immunity. This is coupled with the fact that the virus is more contagious than common viruses such as influenza. One infected individual is expected to infect 2 – 3 other people under normal social conditions.
According to current information on coronavirus it seems to be infectious before the infected individual presents symptoms. Asymptomatic individuals with COVID-19 can be contagious for several days prior to manifesting symptoms.
Currently there is no known effective anti-viral medication. Anti-viral medications that are already on the market to treat other viruses are being tested for efficacy against COVID-19.
Are People Infected with the Novel Coronavirus Contagious Before They Have Symptoms?
Additionally, there is no available vaccine for COVID-19. A vaccine for COVID-19 could take 12 – 18 months due to the time needed for development, testing trials and production.
Why is COVID-19 so dangerous?
Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough and difficulty breathing. However, unlike most cold and flu viruses which attack the upper respiratory tract, COVID-19 tends to attack the lower respiratory tract which is the lung tissue itself.
Based on current data approximately 80% of people infected with COVID-19 have mild cases; however, approximately 1% of those infected will die due to overwhelming viral pneumonia and multiorgan system failure. This is in contrast to influenza which has a 0.1% mortality rate.
For those infected with COVID-19 there is no treatment apart from “supportive care”, which includes measures such as intravenous fluid for hydration and ventilation support to help the patient’s body fight the virus.
What is the goal of current public health initiatives? What can we expect in the future?
Since there is no current medication to treat COVID-19, and no vaccine to prevent it, the goal of public health initiatives is to slow the transmission of COVID-19 so that medical facilities are not overwhelmed. This is a stopgap approach until antiviral medications and vaccine become available.
Current directives to combat COVID-19 in the United States are based on limiting community spread of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) in combination with an increasing amount of testing. Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected. The tactics to limit the community spread of COVID-19 include social distancing, frequent hand washing and related actions. Testing indicates people who are carriers of the virus and may be contagious, which allows for more effective isolation of individuals who may contribute to community spread.
Why Measures to Prevent Community Spread of Coronavirus are Critical
It is still not clear if the new coronavirus will be a seasonal infection like influenza. Even if it is seasonal, the virus has the potential to re-emerge in the next fall/winter season.
Based on available information, it is expected that COVID-19 could be problematic for many months (and possibly several years) to come.
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The coronavirus outbreak is evolving rapidly and over the course of time more information and data will become available. This post reflects information available as of the publication date.