Wuhan Coronavirus/2019-nCoV Update: January 31st, 2020

Illustration of a 2019-nCoV virion (source: Wikipedia)

Today I bring you some up-to-date information about the Wuhan coronavirus, courtesy of The New York Times newspaper and the British Columbia (Canada) Centre for Disease Control.

I have extracted some key information from The New York Times article published today: How Bad Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Get? Here Are 6 Key Factors (Please note: the NYT is one of those irritating news websites which only offers you a few free articles per month before a paywall comes up, which is why I have quoted more than I usually do):

1. How contagious is the virus?

It seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS. The scale of an outbreak depends on how quickly and easily a virus is transmitted from person to person. While research has just begun, scientists have estimated that each person with the Wuhan coronavirus could infect somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.

2. How deadly is the virus?

It’s hard to know yet. But the mortality rate is probably less than 3 percent, much less than SARS… Early indications suggest the mortality rate for this virus is considerably less than another coronavirus, MERS, which kills about one in three people who become infected, and SARS, which kills about one in 10. All of the diseases appear to latch on to proteins on the surface of lung cells, but MERS and SARS seem to be more destructive to lung tissue. As of Jan. 31, fewer than one in 40 of the people with confirmed infections had died. Many of those who died were older men with underlying health problems.

3. How long does it take to show symptoms?

Possibly between 2 to 14 days, allowing the illness to go undetected… Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that the Wuhan coronavirus has an incubation period of 2 to 14 days. But it is still not clear whether a person can spread the virus before symptoms develop, or whether the severity of the illness affects how easily a patient can spread the virus.

4. How much have infected people traveled?

The virus spread quickly because it started in a transportation hub. Wuhan is a difficult place to contain an outbreak. It has 11 million people, more than New York City. On an average day, 3,500 passengers take direct flights from Wuhan to cities in other countries. These cities were among the first to report cases of the virus outside China.

5. How effective will the response be?

The W.H.O. has praised China’s efforts, but critics fear lockdown measures may not be enough.

6. How long will it take to develop a vaccine?

A vaccine is still a year away — at minimum.

A coronavirus vaccine could prevent infections and stop the spread of the disease. But vaccines take time.

After the SARS outbreak in 2003, it took researchers about 20 months to get a vaccine ready for human trials. (The vaccine was never needed, because the disease was eventually contained.) By the Zika outbreak in 2015, researchers had brought the vaccine development timeline down to six months.

Now, they hope that work from past outbreaks will help cut the timeline even further. Researchers have already studied the genome of the new coronavirus and found the proteins that are crucial for infection. Scientists from the National Institutes of Health, in Australia and at least three companies are working on vaccine candidates.

“If we don’t run into any unforeseen obstacles, we’ll be able to get a Phase 1 trial going within the next three months,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci cautioned that it could still take months, and even years, after initial trials to conduct extensive testing that can prove a vaccine is safe and effective. In the best case, a vaccine may become available to the public a year from now.

This last point is important to grasp: there will not be a quick-fix vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus anytime soon.

The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control issued a series of tweets addressing misconceptions being spread on social media about how the Wuhan coronavirus is transmitted:

The receptors for coronavirus are deep in a person’s lungs – a person must inhale enough of the virus that it can actually bind to those receptors deep in the lungs. Coronavirus is transmitted via larger droplets that fall quickly out of the air (for example, after a sneeze). This virus is not airborne.

Coronavirus is not something that people can get from casual contact. A person must be in close contact (within 2 metres) with somebody to be able to inhale those droplets if a person coughs or sneezes without cover, in front of them.

The droplets can fall to the ground after a sneeze and a person can touch them with their hands. The risk of transmission is low in this case, as those droplets must be of significant enough quantity to make it to the receptors in a person’s lungs. If a person has touched something that has droplets on it with coronavirus in it, as long as they clean their hands before touching their face or your mouth, they are not at risk of getting that virus in their body. Coronavirus is not something that comes in through the skin. This virus is remitted through large droplets that are breathed deep into a person’s lungs.

How Can I Prepare for 2019-nCoV?

Again, your best, most common-sense prevention strategy is to wash your hands, well and often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your unwashed hands, since you could potentially pick up 2019-nCoV from surfaces on which other people have coughed or sneezed.

If you haven’t yet, please watch this short, one-minute video from WHO which explains the best technique to wash your hands to ensure that they are free from the virus. You might think you already know how to wash your hands, but you might be surprised at what you don’t know:

There is a great deal of debate among experts as to whether or not face masks will be helpful to prevent 2019-nCoV infection. Some Chinese cities are asking their citizens not to venture outside without wearing a mask. And stocks of face masks have been selling out in stores around the world, as well as via online retailers, so they could be difficult to obtain for many people. The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says:

Regarding wearing masks – masks should be used by sick people to prevent transmission to other people. A mask will help keep a person’s droplets in. It may be less effective to wear a mask in the community when a person is not sick themselves. Masks may give a person a false sense of security, and are likely to increase the number of times a person will touch their own face – to adjust the mask, etc. The most important thing that a person can do to prevent themselves from getting coronavirus is to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their face.

My advice is, that if you can obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks, gloves, and eye protection, and if you learn how to put them on and take them off properly, then they might make you feel less anxious if you do have to go outside and interact with other people if/when a wave of the 2019-nCoV is sweeping through your community.

At the present moment, there is absolutely no need for such precautions here in North America, and it is unlikely that the situation will change drastically over the next few weeks. However, you should probably go and stock up on soap and hand sanitizer, of which you will probably be using a lot more! Use this time to practice how to wash your hands 😉


Good Sources of Information on 2019-nCoV

Here is my updated list of good, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (more formally known as 2019-nCoV):

If you want a quick, up-to-date overview of the current situation, here are two good places to check:


Sources of Fast-Breaking News on 2019-nCoV (WARNING: News You Read Here May Not Be 100% Credible!)

PLEASE READ: In addition to the sources listed in the previous section, there are other places you can check, which might have reports (including translated links to local social media in China) that have not yet made the mainstream news media. Please keep in mind that the situation in China is chaotic, and that some of the information you find in the sources I list below might be gossip, rumours, hoaxes, conspiracy theories, misinformation, or disinformation! Please review the information and videos I posted in my blogpost about How to Spot Fake News, BEFORE you using any of these links.

Stay healthy!

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