According to the CDC, this won’t be the last case to hit the US…
(Jan. 22, 2020) The CDC has confirmed the first case of 2019 novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the US. The patient is a man in his 30s who had recently traveled through the Wuhan region in China to Snohomish County, Washington State, north of Seattle.
And, according to the CDC, this won’t be the last case.
Coronaviruses can produce severe, sometimes fatal respiratory illness. The 2019-nCoV appears to be a fast-moving, highly contagious virus. So far, there are 6 confirmed deaths out of approximately 300 confirmed cases.
Here is what we know right now.
What Is a coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a relatively common type of virus among mammals. In spite of how common they are, relatively few of them make humans ill. When they do make us sick, however, it can be serious. Deadly serious.
The term “coronavirus” comes from its appearance. The virus is covered in spikes, giving it a crown-like appearance. The spikes look like a halo or corona. Both SARS and MERS are coronaviruses that have proven fatal. There’s an ongoing outbreak of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in Saudi Arabia which has killed 858 people globally since 2012.
Coronaviruses are enveloped RNA viruses. Because they are enveloped, they have greater protection. RNA viruses mutate more frequently than DNA viruses. So, what we have here is a virus that is well-protected from our immune system and that has a greater likelihood of mutation. Both of these pose challenges to developing treatments.
How does a coronavirus make you sick?
Coronaviruses produce respiratory symptoms like a cold or flu. Symptoms include coughing, fever, congestion, headaches, body aches, and a sore throat. Coronaviruses can, however, develop into viral pneumonia.
For people in at-risk populations, such as the very young or very old, or who also have a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes or heart disease, the risk of dying from pneumonia is very real.
What is 2019-nCoV?
The Wuhan Coronavirus, officially known as 2019-nCoV, is a coronavirus first identified from a patient in Wuhan, China. The novel (new) coronavirus was first noted in mid-December. The illness has been linked to a market. According to Cidrap:
Today, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that Wuhan authorities told visiting Hong Kong health officials that three members of the same household were among the 41 cases. They include a father, his son, and a cousin who ran a seafood stall at the market at the center of the investigation and got sick at the same time, suggesting that they may have been exposed to the same source. The market also sold live animals such as poultry, bats, and marmots, along with wildlife parts.
Since coronaviruses are spread by mammals, it is unlikely that the family because infected from their own seafood stand. It is more likely that they were infected by live animals from a nearby vendor.
How is the Wuhan Coronavirus spread?
The big threat is person-to-person transmission. Early reports stated it was transmitted animal-to-person. But it wasn’t long before the worst was confirmed.
The wife of the man who owned the seafood stand got sick. She hadn’t been to the market and could only have caught it from her husband. Soon, more person-to-person cases began popping up, including healthcare workers caring for infected patients.
The transmission of coronavirus is similar to influenza. It is transmitted via the water droplets spread in the air when someone coughs, sneezes, or breathes. It is possible that it is transmitted by coming in contact with other infected bodily fluids. MERS, for example, is transmitted not only person-to-person but also camel-to-human through contact with infected camel urine and milk.
How deadly is the Wuhan Coronavirus?
For some people, like the man in Washington State, the Wuhan coronavirus won’t result in anything more than a bad cold. For others, it has been fatal.
At this point, there are 6 confirmed deaths out of 300 or so confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV. That works out to be a 2% mortality rate. Compared to MERS which has slightly over 30% mortality rate in patients without pre-existing conditions, this does not appear to be a deadly threat.
One of the victims of 2019-nCoV was an 89-year old man with diabetes and a heart condition. I have not been able to track down information on the other 5 people who died. It would be logical, however, that these victims were also in a weaker condition before they became infected. But, at this point, I want to be careful with assumptions.
However, just because it currently has a 2% mortality rate doesn’t mean that number won’t change. When MERS first emerged, it had a mortality rate of about 60%. It popped up in a limited population, mostly camel herders. Within this group, those with diabetes had an almost 90% mortality rate. However, when it began to spread to the population at large, it dropped to just above 30%.
SARS, another coronavirus that originated in China, had a 15% mortality rate in the general population. Among elderly patients, that jumped to around 50%.
Until we see more information about the other 5 people who died (and future fatalities), and until we have seen this disease spread to more people in more areas, we just don’t know if that 2% number is going to go up, down, or stay the same. What we do know is that mutation is always a risk with coronaviruses. The more people who become infected, the greater the chance for a mutation and a higher mortality rate.
There will be more Cases of Wuhan Coronavirus
What is a near certainty is that there will be plenty more cases of 2019-nCoV. Not only is the CDC anticipating more cases, but the WHO is also concerned about sustained transmission. In other words, they expect this to last a while.
In major developments surrounding the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak centered in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it sees possible evidence of sustained transmission—meaning the virus is spreading beyond just clusters of patients.
In addition, China today reported another spike in cases—to more than 300—plus two more deaths, with more newly affected provinces, while Taiwan reported its first 2019-nCoV case in a traveler from Wuhan.
National Geographic points out the uncertainty in how deadly, or not, this coronavirus could be:
“It’s unclear whether or not this [Wuhan] virus is simply going to die out or whether it’s going to evolve into something that’s more pathogenic,” Lipkin says. “We don’t have any evidence yet of superspreaders, and hopefully we never will. But we also don’t know how long this new coronavirus lasts on surfaces, or how long people will continue to shed virus after being infected.”
Where has the Wuhan Coronavirus spread?
2019-nCoV is our latest pandemic. To be clear, pandemic doesn’t mean “extra-deadly”. It means that a disease has crossed a border or is impacted a significantly large landmass. Wuhan Coronavirus has already crossed multiple borders thanks to air travel, plus it is spreading further within China.
Currently, 2019-nCoV has been confirmed in China, Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, the US and possibly Australia (still waiting on test results to confirm the Australian patient’s illness).
What is the US government doing in response?
There isn’t much they can do at the moment. One thing they can do is screen passengers from Wuhan as they fly to the US.
Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said that, on Jan 19 as the nCoV situation was evolving in China and in the Asian region, federal officials decided to expand traveler health checks in people arriving from Wuhan at two more US airports: Atlanta and Chicago.
Also, health officials will funnel all Wuhan air travelers into the five US airports doing enhanced screening, which also includes JFK Airport in New York and international airports in San Francisco and Los Angeles. US officials used a similar strategy to screen people arriving from West Africa during the 2014 Ebola outbreak. The funneling process is complex, requiring air passengers to be rerouted and reticketed.
I would not be surprised to see this expanded to all flights coming in from China as this develops.
The CDC doesn’t have much else to offer, other than to suggest handwashing, which is a good if insufficient, suggestion.
This will spread much further
Two things that lead me to believe that the Wuhan coronavirus will spread much further than it already has are:
- The numbers of total infected are likely much higher than China is reporting.
- Millions of Chinese people are about to travel to celebrate the Chinese New Year
Is China accurately reporting the number of infections?
When MERS initially broke out in Saudi Arabia, the reported numbers were artificially low. The Saudi government was terribly slow in reporting accurate numbers. Whether this is intentional or not, it appears that China is also downplaying the total number of people infected. This is a common practice in order to prevent public panic.
According to the Imperial College London:
…the number of people to be infected as of January 12 (per the study) is likely more in the region of 1,723 — a figure around 35 times greater than the 45 cases confirmed in a lab.
The estimate of total infected ranged from 996 up to 2,298 on January 12. Also, from the article:
Here is the academics’ conclusion:
“It is likely that the Wuhan outbreak of a novel coronavirus has caused substantially more cases of moderate or severe respiratory illness than currently reported.”
Chinese New Year
This virus has emerged at an interesting time. The Chinese people will be celebrating their lunar New Year this Saturday, January 25th. Over the course of their celebrations, Chinese travelers are expected to make over an estimated 3 billion trips.
3 billion trips.
That’s a whole lot of opportunity to spread a highly contagious disease throughout a dense population. Think of all the chances 2019-nCoV will have to mutate as it infects more and more people.
These two factors will give the Wuhan coronavirus every opportunity to spread and mutate. We will have plenty of new cases, and we’ll see if that very low mortality rate of 2% holds or not.
What can you do?
Here are some things you can do to be proactive without panicking.
Take all the same precautions as you would for a cold or flu.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Avoid excess sugar and alcohol.
- Avoid crowds (malls, stadiums, airports, etc) and closed population (prisons, dormitories, nursing homes, any place with re-circled air).
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap
- Avoid touching your face.
If you have a pre-existing condition, do what you can to improve it, if possible.
These may include:
- Kidney Disease
- Heart Disease
- Cancer and impaired immune response
Get ready for an extended bug-in.
If this disease continues to spread and become more deadly as it is transmitted around the globe, you may wish to do a Self-Imposed Reverse Quarantine (SIRQ). This is where you voluntarily separate yourself from others until you know its safe outside your borders.
I have included detailed instructions on how to implement a SIRQ during a pandemic in my book, Prepping for a Pandemic. In it, you will find even more information specific to coronaviruses and preparing for all sorts of pandemics.
You can find an article about pandemic preparedness here.
You can find an article about how pandemics spread here.
Keep in mind that pandemics can last for a long time. You’ll want to start improving your food storage, water supplies, and any medical supplies and medications you may need for an extended period.
Improve your health and first aid skills.
During the Ebola crisis of 2014, many people died waiting at clinics for health care not related to the Ebola outbreak. There just weren’t enough health care workers, beds, or supplies to go around. People were dying from heart attacks and complications to labor simply because personnel and supplies were stretched too thin. Besides, during an outbreak, do you really want to go to where all the really sick people are for something like pinkeye or a stomach bug?
Get out of the city if you can.
You would be best served getting out of densely populated areas. Disease spreads fast in cities and high population centers. If you can get out of dodge, all the better for you and your loved ones. Another book that does a good job of addressing pandemic preparedness, but from a fiction POV, is The Jakarta Pandemic, by Steven Konkoly.
If you can’t get out of the city or out of the burbs, be prepared for neighbors who did not prep for this to turn on you if they think you have supplies. I cover this in Prepping for a Pandemic, but during the Ebola outbreak back in 2014, people were breaking curfew and defying martial law because they were sitting in their homes with no food. Do you think we would allocate supplies more efficiently? Ask anyone who has had to rely on FEMA during a disaster if they would rely on the government to feed you during an emergency. And look at that warehouse of two-year-old emergency supplies that were stashed away and not distributed in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, leaving people to suffer needlessly.
Disease is a scary thing we don’t like to look at. It’s not an enemy we can shoot. We are overdue for another Great Pandemic, similar to Influenza in 1918. We don’t know when and we don’t know where. But, history has proven that pandemics can and will continue to happen.
The best thing you can do is stay informed, mind your overall health to lower your risk of serious complications, and avoid being around other people whenever possible.
We’ll keep you updated as this outbreak develops. Questions or concerns? Drop me a line in the comment section.