CORONAVIRUS has spread to almost every country in the world since it first broke out in China, but how did coronavirus start? What caused it?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that cause disease in animals. Seven of them, including the latest COVID-19, have transmitted to humans too. Most of them just cause col and flu-like symptoms, but some others like MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome)| can be more deadly. MERS caused about 2,500 cases and almost 900 deaths since it first emerged in 2012.
The most well known case of another coronavirus epidemic is SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which, after being detected in China in 2002, went on to infect 26 countries and resulted in more than 8,000 cases and 774 deaths. The cause of the outbreak was initially unknown, until January 7 when Chinese authorities saw that it was brought on by a strain of coronavirus that had never been seen in humans before.
The Chinese Government then shared the virus’s genetic sequence so that other countries could develop their own treatments. A Chinese study found that 2.3 percent of all coronavirus cases ended in death, but this number is, in reality, much lower as it only refers to cases who tested positive while many people will have carried the virus unknowingly.
How did COVID-19 start?
One report suggests originates from a ‘wet’ food market in Wuhan, where wild animals including marmots, rabbits, bats, snakes and birds are traded illegally. Markets like this pose a huge risk of disease as the viruses are likely to jump from animals to humans thanks to the hygiene standards, which are difficult to control when an animal is living and being slaughtered on site. They are also very densely packed, allowing the disease to spread very quickly from person to person.
Coronaviruses are known for their ability to jump from animals to humans, and it is believed that a group of stallholders in the market contracted it after coming into contact with the animals. A team of virologists at the Wuhan Institute for Virology releases a paper which showed that COVID-19’s genetic makeup is 96 percent identical to a strain found in bats, while an unpublished study says that the genetic makeup of coronavirus in pangolins is 99 percent similar to the one found in humans.Bats were not sold at the Wuhan market but may have infected live chickens or other animals sold there.
Bats are known hosts to a wide range of viruses, including Ebola, HIV and rabies. Another report suggested the outbreak is linked to bat soup sold at Wuhan market. However, there is no conclusive evidence of a link. The market in Wuhan was shut down for inspection and deep cleaning on January 1, but by then the virus had spread far and wide across the world.
How does coronavirus spread, and is there a cure?
Just like cold and flu viruses, COVID-19 is spread via droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets then land on surfaces and are picked up by other people on their hands and spread even further. People then catch the disease when their infected hands come into contact with their mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why the most important thing you can do to protect yourself against coronavirus is to wash your hands often with soap and water.
As of yet, there is no specific treatment to overcome COVID-19. Doctors are, however, trialling drugs which exist for other infections like malaria and Ebola. Early results appear to be promising, but doctors cannot be certain of anything until the full clinical trials are over. We do not yet know enough about the new virus and how dangerous or contagious it can be. One of the most crucial differences is, unlike the flu, there is no known vaccine for COVID-19.
Seasons fun has a death rate of less than one percent and is thought to cause around 400,000 deaths a year globally. This means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of society – the elderly or people with compromised immune systems – to protect themselves. Work is underway to develop a vaccine against it, but this is unlikely to be available before a year to eighteen months.