Novel Form of Coronavirus Emerges in China, Sparking Concerns From Public Health Officials

By Ellyn Fritz || Staff Writer

A new strain of the coronavirus is making waves worldwide after it appeared to originate in early December. According to The Economist, its origin was traced to a fish and animal market in Wuhan, China, and originally was believed to only spread from animals to humans. On January 20th, however, the first clear evidence that the illness could spread from human to human was confirmed when an official stated that 14 health workers who treated patients were ill. 

The 2019 coronavirus can cause severe pneumonia and may lead to death. According to the World Health Organization’s report on February 2nd, there are approximately 15,000 confirmed cases and 300 deaths. Due to the lack of test kits for officials to accurately diagnose, the number is most likely higher.  

The rise of coronavirus brings back dark memories of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which erupted in China in 2002 and spread globally the following year. Because SARS is a different form of a coronavirus, it appears to be the more deadly pathogen, killing 10% of the people it infected, while the 2019 coronavirus has killed 3% of those infected according to official reports. However, the new virus may spread from person to person more quickly than SARS and China now has more reported cases of the coronavirus than it had of SARS. 

Countries worldwide are concerned that small Chinese hospitals are not equipped with the resources to handle the new coronavirus. Memories of the early delays by Chinese officials in containing the SARS crisis two decades ago, which contributed to a higher rate of infection and death, have raised concerns that a similar event could be repeated. There are a lack of medical supplies, beds, and staff to adequately serve the number of people looking for treatment. As the New York Times reported, China’s response of a lockdown, sealing off cities and closing down schools, could exacerbate the issue as transporting medical supplies becomes more difficult. 

In response to the pressure to manage the crisis, the Chinese government has promised to open two new hospitals. According to People’s Daily, the Wuhan Huoshenshan Hospital is on track to provide 1,000 more beds by February 3rd and the Leishenshen Hospital is due to open by the middle of February with 1,300 more beds. Chen Xi, an assistant professor of health policy and economics at the Yale School of Public Health, reported to the New York Times that having a working system of family doctors who can act as gatekeepers for the hospital is integral to handling the contagious virus. 

There are no known or proven drugs to treat the new virus. As a result, health authorities have told doctors to prescribe a combination of anti-viral H.I.V. drugs, along with traditional Chinese medicine like buffalo horn, jasmine, and honeysuckle.

 Despite efforts to quarantine millions of people infected with the virus, it is spreading rapidly. The majority of recently reported cases come from outside China: about 100 cases have been confirmed in at least 23 other countries. The virus shows signs of spreading overseas due to reports of people falling ill who had never visited China in Thailand, Taiwan, Germany, Vietnam, Japan, France and the United States. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the first patient to die from the coronavirus outside of China was on February 1st, as a 44-year-old Chinese man passed away in the Philippines. 

Within the United States, the 8th case of the coronavirus was confirmed in Massachusetts; the patient is a University of Massachusetts- Boston student who had recently traveled to Wuhan, China. Additionally, a person is being tested for the coronavirus in New York City after exhibiting the symptoms for the virus. On January 30, the U.S. State Department upped its China travel advisory to the highest level,  “Do Not Travel,” shortly before the World Health Organization classified the coronavirus outbreak as a public health emergency on February 1st. 

Sophomore Ellyn Fritz is a Staff Writer. Her email is efritz@fandm.edu

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