Contagious diseases and epidemics have been rampant throughout the history of mankind and are even present today: the Zika, Ebola, polio, cholera, and SARS are few of the epidemics that have affected humans within the past few decades.
This brief introduction brings us to the respiratory viral infections, for which Coronavirus has been a major culprit in recent times.
In simple terms, a virus is an entity that can only replicate and breed in other living organisms.
Coronaviruses were first discovered about six decades ago and were named so because of their characteristic crown-shaped appearance.
It is a highly virulent entity that mainly affects the respiratory system in humans.
Types of Coronavirus:
Various subspecies have been discovered until this year (including SARS and MERS), the human infections of whom range from simple Influenza-like infections to severe pneumonia and life-threatening conditions.
A newer strain of coronavirus had been discovered in 2019 and named 2019-nCoV, which has wreaked havoc in China and the associated regions in January of 2020.
Previously the 2002-2003 SARS infection of the Asian region has also been attributed to a Coronavirus subtype.
Causes of Coronavirus Infection:
The novel Coronavirus infection has been speculated to have started from Wuhan City in China from a seafood and meat market and has been thought to have started from consumption of virus-infected bats, seafood or snakes which are commonly taken as delicacies around the Oriental region.
The disease mainly spreads through airborne droplets, infested meat and contact with secretions.
Most cases have been reported in Wuhan, China. As of 29th January 2020, the total number of reported cases has exceeded the 6000 marks, with almost 90% of the patient pool originating from China.
Outside mainland China, more than 190 cases have been reported. Washington Post has been reporting in its live update feed about the spread of the virus and so far, cases outside China in UAE, Japan, the US, France, African countries and Europe have been found.
The first death due to organ failure from coronavirus was reported from Beijing, China with the total number of deaths exceeding 100 patients as of this date, including doctors and medical personnel working on the virus-infected patients.
Photographs of doctors bidding farewell to their loved ones as they set off for disease-ridden areas have been circulating on the internet, which blatantly signifies the uncertainty that is currently associated with the prognosis and long-term follow-up of the disease.
Symptoms of Coronavirus:
As far as the current authorities have described, the novel Coronavirus typically attacks the respiratory system of the host: the most commonly pronounced symptoms being episodes of cough, shortness of breath and fever.
The incubation period has yet to be confirmed, but it has been tentatively observed that the infection develops usually with 1.5 to 2 weeks after initial contact with the virus. The infection continues as a cascade of pathologies that include renal and liver dysfunction.
The complications of vital organ systems may lead to the death of the person in the absence of the currently available symptomatic treatment.
The medical personnel handling the cases is now at severe risk also: due to the absence of vaccines and treatment, the only line of defense is the protective gear and the hygiene measures observed by the doctors and the medical staff.
Theories about discovery:
Several media houses and journalists have theorized various reasons for the rapid spread and uncertainty around the virus. It has been speculated that the virus has been bioengineered artificially and has been released as a bioweapon for biological warfare.
Others have also speculated that the novel strain of coronavirus has come from the Arctic region. It was previously thought that the polar caps have covered certain viruses to which humans are highly susceptible, and the recent global warming leading to melting of polar ice has been held responsible by some for the introduction of the newer strain to the world.
Since the discovery of the novel strain, the experimentation for treatment has yet not been encouraging.
The viral nature of the disease has led to the failure of any antibiotics to work. The anti-viral drugs have not been promising, because of differences in the effects of drugs on the strains of the virus.
So far, no vaccine is available so the only available form of prevention is protection against the factors that are likely to cause disease such as close contact with affected persons, usage of masks, limiting traveling to disease-ridden areas and maintaining personal hygiene.
Also, for the affected patients, the current treatment regimens consist of the management of symptoms of the disease such as cough and fever and isolation of the affected person.
The novel Coronavirus has never been encountered before, adding to the difficulty in the management of the already deadly pathogenesis of the virus.
Till now, the Chinese government has been dealing with the problem by quarantining the affected city of Wuhan and other districts. The flight’s operation to the affected area has also been canceled, which has affected more than 56 million people.
W.H.O. had originally referred to it as not being as serious as the 2002-3 SARS infection that had infected nearly 8000 people. However, the drastic day-over-day increase has led to the seriousness of authorities over the case.
The Chinese government has suggested precautions that must be taken for the prevention of Coronavirus disease.
Since the major method of transmission is airborne and it has been suspected that an intermediate host exists between humans, bats, and seafood, it has been suggested that disposable masks be used during travel and going out in the public. Media has reported that many online stores have sold out or completely run out of stocks of masks and air purifiers due to a rapid surge in demands.
Some medical personnel also have recommended to maintain oral hygiene and maintain moisture in the throat at all times to not allow the virus to infect the person even after entry.
While others have recommended changes in eating habits to prevent acquiring the virus from infected meat.
For the time being, all eyes around the world are set on the virus, its spread throughout the world and the research for its treatment. Despite the initial drastic setbacks, the scientific community is optimistic about the conditions that the world will observe in the future regarding the control and management of the disease.