The Coronavirus: Potential For a New Epidemic?

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The new virus that has caused an uproar in China is known as the novel coronavirus (nCoV), the newest strain in a family of viruses that have been known to spread death and chaos wherever they go. The well-known SARS epidemic was responsible for 774 documented deaths between 2002 and 2003.

Human-human and human-animal transmission have both been confirmed. It is believed that an illegal seafood market acted as the spark for this coronavirus explosion.

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The virus initially presents flu-like symptoms which later develop into respiratory problems, pneumonia, organ failure and, in 260 cases so far, death. Those with already compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to the disease, and the majority of current fatalities have been older or already unwell people. The Chinese director-general for disease control and prevention disclosed that the virus is mutating, and as such this has unpredictable and devastating implications for the containment of the virus.

The ‘ground zero’ city of Wuhan is currently quarantined, public transport has been halted and shops have shut their doors. With a staggering population of over 11 million susceptible people, it is hoped that this should slow down the transmission rate enough to allow the Chinese government to eradicate the virus; however with an incubation time of 14 days and almost 12,000 people already infected it has been questioned whether this is going to be enough, and as it stands experts are sceptical. Local authorities are racing to complete construction on two new hospitals to help accommodate the rapidly increasing numbers of infected individuals.

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The UK announced it’s first two confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus last week, with the two patients being related. Panic started to spread after it was uncovered that one patient was a student at the University of York; a spokesperson has assured the public that the infected student did not have any contact with other students when their symptoms started to show. It has been reported that the virus can and has spread before symptoms manifest, as such officials are looking into the interactions that the two Chinese nationals had after returning to the UK.

Currently, 25 countries have confirmed cases of the virus and with the ease and frequency of international travel, it seems likely that we are only days away from another confirmed case here in the UK, however HM Government and World Health Organization have acknowledged that the public risk is low. Checks are being carried out in airports with direct flights towards China, and the NHS has a well-established treatment procedure for anyone suspected to be infected.

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Sickeningly, there have been reports that the Chinese government have ordered a cull on domesticated animals. There are reports that residents in China have now resorted to mercilessly killing pets in a selfish attempt to reduce the likelihood of the animals spreading the infection. Unfortunately, the authoritarian Chinese government has a record of cruel and sadistic actions towards animals, shown by their callous annual dog meat festival in Yulin.

At present experts are desperately working to analyse the virus to stop the transmission and find a cure; the viral genome has been sequenced and a vaccine is on the way to being produced. The virus has now been declared as a public health emergency due to its mutations and worryingly high infection rate.

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