Coronavirus: reality, fake news and conspiracy theories
The coronavirus looks like this under a microscope. It is a virus that initially develops in animals. But sometimes it takes the leap. This is what has happened now and what has triggered the global health alert. An unknown coronavirus has emerged and is attacking hundreds of people.
Bats and birds have coronaviruses, but there are also bovine coronaviruses and canine coronaviruses. When they jump to humans they cause the symptoms of a cold with implications for the respiratory system. Depending on their characteristics, they can cause a more or less severe illness.
The new coronavirus that is infecting thousands of people has been named coronavirus 2019-nCoV and is believed to have originated in Wuhan. In that city of 11 million people, the largest number of cases has been detected. Officials believe that the virus may have originated in a large seafood and animal market in the city.
In other instances of coronavirus alerts (for example, when the so-called SARS spread in 2003 causing almost a thousand deaths), people assumed that its origin lay in the traditional Chinese animal markets. All kinds of live animals are traded there, and not always under secure conditions. In such an environment, the jump from an animal virus to a human one is plausible.
A study conducted in January 2020 found similarities between the current strain of coronavirus and the one that can be found in bats. Some media have used this finding to indicate that people in the Wuhan area eat a bat soup which might have been the origin of the infection. There is no hard data on this. It is just another theory.
Since December 2019, when cases of coronavirus infection started to appear, hundreds of people have fallen ill. With the current figures, however, the mortality rate of this coronavirus appears likely to remain lower than in other occasions (like, for example, SARS in 2003). The estimated mortality rate is around 3.9% of the cases detected.
Basically, the transmission is like any other virus, like the flu: you can get it through transmission of saliva, coughing, etcetera. A study of this health crisis shows that it can be transmitted while it is incubating and the symptoms have not yet come to light. Apart from that, all we know is that it is a different coronavirus from the earlier ones. Every detail is still being analyzed and studied, and almost no conclusive statements have been made.
A global health alert has been issued and sensitive locations like airports are heavily monitored. In some places, like Hong Kong, air traffic from China has been closed.
A mask is important, as well as the avoidance of close contact with anyone who may have been infected.
As with any virus, frequent hand washing is hughely important. It is through our hands, always in contact with other people and with objects that contain remains of other human beings, that contagion is most common.
Of course, and unfortunately, conspiracy theories have emerged about this new coronavirus. One theory is that it was created in US laboratories of the CDC (Center for Disease Control). It would have been patented in 2015 and now, by mistake, put into circulation. In fact, AFP claims, in 2015 labs were working on (and patented) a treatment against a coronavirus of a different strain than the one now attacking the planet.
At this point, we are not facing a crisis like the one that Ebola can cause, whose enormous mortality and lack of methods to treat the infected carries an added seriousness.
There is no specific treatment, but its symptoms can be treated just like the symptoms of the flu or respiratory infections.
China says it's working on a vaccine that may be ready in a very short time. Laboratories around the world are doing the same work, and some news outlets suggest that a vaccine could be tested in the United States by April 2020.
In some countries fake news is making the rounds through social media, linking the spread of the coronavirus to Chinese food or to the consumption of other products from that country. The danger in that corner is limited, however, because global trade is subject to strict hygienic and medical standards.
We will have to see how the situation develops and remain vigilant, but for the time being, many institutions are working on the management of this health crisis. The outbreak was detected early, the city of Wuhan has been placed under quarantine, and all persons suspected of having been infected are being monitored.