1What is a virus and why are they dangerous?
Viruses are not living organisms, or to be precise, they are not living organisms in the known definition. They can’t reproduce nor eat on their own, and they don’t have any organic material except for their genetic material and a few proteins. The common characteristic of viruses is that they need a host to reproduce. They infect cells, enslave them and use them to produce new viruses. Most viruses on earth are not targeted towards humans and can’t infect them, but rather infect bacteria, nonetheless, the most lethal infectious killers worldwide next to malaria are viruses. In 1918, an influenza virus pandemic killed more than 20 million humans and was one of the most lethal pandemics in history, shadowed only by the plague of the 14th century.
The reason why viruses are currently more dangerous than bacteria is that they are very hard to cure by medications, most viruses are only treated symptomatically, which means that we only treat problems related to the infection as they appear and not the infection itself unlike bacteria which are treated by antibiotics, and that’s why people with weaker immune systems especially the elderly and the young are at an increased risk of death from these infections. Viruses can produce a multitude of manifestations and can virtually affect all body organs -except for some highly specialized viruses-. They can cause respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections, meningitis, encephalitis -infection of the brain substance itself-, arthritis, gastrointestinal tract infections, pericarditis and myocarditis -inflammation of the heart muscle-.
2What is happening in China?
After the Chinese government held a press conference revealing the statistics about the new virus, we have the following information:
- The virus is called 2019-nCoV and is a member of the family coronaviridae, which is a large family of viruses called so because their shape by the electron microscope looks as if they have a “crown” or a “solar corona” of surface projections. This family has been incriminated recently for the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, a disease that killed more than 700 people worldwide during an outbreak in 2003.
- As of the time of writing of this article -the 26th of January 2020-, 1975 cases have been confirmed to be infected with the virus in China, 57 of whom have died.
- China is currently placing an embargo around the district of Wuhan, the birthplace of the new virus and building two new hospitals with a capacity of 2300 beds to be finished and ready to receive patients within 2 weeks.
- Until now, no vaccines were developed and are safe for human use.
- Reports of infected cases have been confirmed in Hong Kong, Australia, France, The United Kingdom, Thailand and six other countries in South-East and East Asia.
- Recent studies show that the virus originated in snakes and underwent a mutation that allowed it to infect humans through ingestion in the exotic food markets of Wuhan.
- Whether this virus is able to cause a pandemic is not yet confirmed, since the studies confirming its transmission by human-to-human contact are still lacking.