The new coronavirus strain has killed more people in China than SARS did, The New York Times reported Tuesday. On the verge of becoming a global pandemic, the Wuhan coronavirus now infects 2,000 new people every day. A professor from The Great Courses helped us make sense of the respiratory illness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the new disease’s full designate is 2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV. While many people refer to it simply as “coronavirus,” it isn’t the first of its kind.
“This coronavirus is most comparable with the SARS outbreak in 2003 and then the MERS outbreak,” Dr. Fox said. “All three of these are coronaviruses. There are now seven known coronaviruses; the first four were just thought to be benign viruses that caused cold-like symptoms and didn’t really come on the radar screen until 2003 when SARS came on the scene and was found to be a coronavirus.”
Understanding Transmission Rates
On the subject of transmission rates, the CDC explains that the rate at which a disease is transmitted is called its basic reproduction number, often written as R0 and pronounced “R naught.” “The basic reproduction number is an epidemiologic metric used to describe the contagiousness or transmissibility of infectious agents,” the CDC website said. Dr. Fox put 2019-nCoV’s R0 into perspective, as well.
“For every one case of the coronavirus, the current R0 is thought to be 2.6, so for every one case, it’s likely that the spread will be to 2.6 other people barring any other containment issues,” he said. “That itself is alarming, but it’s not particularly alarming because [with] something like measles, for example, the R0 is about 16.”
Dr. Fox said that the standard answer from administrators in the medical world is that a vaccine for a new illness is a year away due to research, development, and safety testing. However, occasionally some of the work is already done, which may help solve the 2019-nCoV outbreak.