COVID-19 Briefs

As the world hunkers down under quarantines and business closings, here are some facts on this latest “novel” virus.

COVID-19 is a new coronavirus that was initially identified in Wuhan, China, and linked to a seafood and live animal “wet market.” There is no immunity to COVID-19 because it is new.

Researchers at Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center published the genome for COVID-19. Gene sequencing suggests the origin was in bats and transferred to humans through an intermediary species. The chief suspect is illegal sales of a scaly anteater called the pangolin. Some cultures consider pangolin meat a delicacy and the scales are used in Chinese medicine.

There is no market for pangolin meat in the United States. Transmission here is from human to human. Precautions include quarantine, hand washing, self-isolation, sterilizing surfaces, keeping hands from face and social distancing of at least six feet.

Vaccines and pharmaceutical treatments are under development but could take more than a year before becoming available.

The Spanish flu of 1919 and 1920 killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Here is a chart compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention comparing possible death rates in the United States for COVID-19 with other major causes of death. The chart is based on an estimate if 30% of the U.S. population becomes infected and mortality is 1%. (Some estimates expect 60% of Americans will get COVID-19 and mortality could be 3%.)

Coronavirus (estimate) 1,020,000
Heart disease 655,381
Cancer 599,274
Alzheimer’s, dementia and brain degeneration 267,311
Emphysema and COPD 154,603
Stroke 47,810
Diabetes 84,946
Drug overdoses 67,367
Pneumonia/flu 59,690
Liver disease and cirrhosis 55,918
Renal failure 50,404
Car crashes 42,114
Septicemia 40,718
Guns 39,201

According to a report by Reuters, “Wet markets, which are a series of stalls that sell fresh vegetables and fruits, live fish, chickens and other meats, are named after the melting of ice used to preserve goods and the washing of floors to clean blood and entrails.

They have come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks after the coronavirus outbreak was linked to a seafood market in Wuhan, China.

That market was shut down, and authorities said they would ban illegal wildlife trade and tighten supervision of wet markets, as a debate raged on social media about whether all wet markets should be closed.”

NPR quoted a report that found the COVID-19 virus can live on surfaces for two to three days. Use alcohol wipes to clean surfaces, and threat your cell phone like a third hand. Wipe it down often.

COVID-19 is considered highly infectious. Here is a sobering estimate from The New York Times:

“R-naught: The R-naught, or R0, is a virus’s basic reproductive number — an epidemiologic metric used to describe the contagiousness of infectious agents.

At its simplest, the basic reproductive number can show us how worried we should be about infection, according to Dr. Adam Kucharski, a mathematician at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If the R0 is above one, each case is expected to infect at least one other person on average, and the virus is likely to keep spreading. If it’s less than one, a group of infected people are less likely to spread the infection.

Research is still in its early stages, but some estimates suggest that each person with the new coronavirus could infect between two and four people.”

Inside Climate News reports that air pollution makes people more vulnerable to respiratory infections. Climate change brings people in closer contact with animals that can spread disease. In many of the emerging infectious diseases that have moved into people from other sources over the last several decades, the vast majority come from animals forced to live in an environment altered by air pollution caused by human activity. More pandemics are increasingly likely.

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