Pandemics have been a critical element in the history of the past 100 years. From the Influenza pandemic in 1918 to the notorious Ebola virus pandemic in West Africa less than a decade ago, epidemics are often terrifying, leading to large scale preventative operations.
More recently, the media has been infiltrated by news of the Coronavirus in China. The disease which is similar to the SARS virus which broke out in China in 2003. Already the spread of Coronavirus has caused hysteria across the world as many countries prepare to quarantine incoming flights from China and avoid confirmation of the spread of the disease into public spaces. However, despite ‘virus’ being in the vocabulary of the general population, what is so terrifying about the Coronavirus in particular?
Where did it come from?
Coronavirus is a common virus affecting the upper respiratory system and most are not dangerous. However, like most pandemics, the most recent discovered strain of Coronavirus, also known as 2019 n-CoV, is thought to stem from disease found in animals. In 2003, the SARS virus was believed to come from bats and with the similarities between the two viruses it’s likely that Coronavirus is the same.
Bat soup, in particular, is a speciality in some parts of China and ingestion of the delicacy may have likely caused the disease in many confirmed patients. However, a person doesn’t necessarily need to ingest bat soup in order to contract the virus. Coronavirus is an airborne disease and can also be spread from person to person through the sharing of bodily fluids, sneezing and coughing, and touching the hands or face of an infected person, just like the common cold.
What are the symptoms?
Coronavirus affects the nose, sinuses and upper throat. The severity of reported coronavirus cases suggest that symptoms range from coughing, sneezing and a sore throat (common symptoms of most coronavirus strains) to fever, chest pains shortness of breath and even pneumonia and kidney failure.
After being reported for the first time in China in early January the number of victims identified has risen to almost 2000 cases. Despite airport controls across the world, people have been identified as having the virus in the USA and Canada. A number of cases were suspected in hospitals in Scotland, however, those have now been unconfirmed.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, has described the spread of the disease as a ‘grave situation’ and that after the first case was identified in Canada. In China, 55 people have already been reported to have died as a result of the virus. The disease, which is thought to have originated from a market in Wuhan province, has lead to the lockdown of 16 cities in the area, restricting a population the size of England. Carrie Lam, the leader of Hong Kong, has also raised the country’s response level to ‘emergency’.
Further strict implications are likely to ensue, including restrictions on inter-province public transport and the cancellation of cross-country group tours. The president has also stated that ‘life is of paramount importance’ as medical staff with experience of the SARS and Ebola epidemic have also been deployed to fight the disease.
Further countries have declared a number of cases, including France, Australia, Japan and Malaysia. With western medicine taking on a huge role in ending the crisis, leaders hope that the disease does not spread to cause further fatality. However, with China’s ever erupting population and it’s heavy urbanisation, close contact of its citizens is a key secondary factor in the spread of the disease making it harder to see a how and when the pandemic may end.