The novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China has now infected over 64,000 people. Most of those that are infected are in China, but many countries have reported cases. Egypt is one of the latest countries to identify a person with the virus; in this case, it was a foreigner who has been put into isolation.
The virus is now being called 2019-nCoV or 2019-COVID. The virus can be transmitted from person to person, and it appears that people who do not show signs of illness (but are infected with the virus) can pass the virus to others. Infections cause coughing, fever, and shortness of breath, and appear to have a wide range; they can be as mild as a cough or as severe as death. The virus has now killed an estimated 1,380 people.
The virus and the respiratory illness it causes appear to spread through contaminated objects, droplets released during sneezes, and human contact. About 80 percent of those infected will only have a mild illness, like a cold, according to world health officials. About fifteen percent of infected patients get pneumonia, and three to five percent of infected individuals will end up in the intensive care unit.
Authorities in China are now working to find out when 1,716 of their health care workers became infected with the virus. However, these infections peaked in January. At a news conference, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program, said “this may reflect increased levels of training, increased levels of protection and increased levels of awareness.” Six of those workers have died.
As people return to Beijing after the Lunar New Year holiday, they are being told to quarantine at home for fourteen days, according to state media; those who do not will face punishment. The next few weeks will be a critical period for the country as the economic impact of the virus is gauged, noted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. The IMF is watching and waiting to see how it spreads and whether low-income countries are impacted.
"We don't know a lot about this virus," Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN. "This virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission."
There have been fifteen cases in seven states so far in the United States, and travelers returning to the US from Hubei are being quarantined for as many as fourteen days. The World Health Organization has said that these measures are not necessary, however, and that they can cause more harm than good. There have not been any cases of health care workers getting the infection in the United States, yet, and clinicians in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle will start monitoring people with flu-like symptoms for the virus. The CDC hopes to expand that system.
The Secretary for Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, told CNBC that the American public has a "very low" risk of getting infected with 2019-COVID, but acknowledged that it could shift "rapidly."
Researchers are working to develop a vaccine for the virus. Daniel Menichella, the CEO of CureVac has said that his company is aiming for a clinical trial by the summer. “Our technology is very, very fast,” he noted.