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After coronavirus, another virus more serious

“Desperate times require desperate measures.” Hippocrates

Nearly 60 years ago, the late Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar defined a virus as “a piece of bad news wrapped in protein.” News of the outbreak of a mysterious viral disease, the coronavirus 2019-n-CoV, in Wuhan, China, has sent shockwaves of fear cascading around the world. The virus is most certainly bad news.

By mid-January, the Chinese government acknowledged the seriousness of the outbreak. Millions of people had passed through Wuhan, spreading 2019-n-CoV around the world. As of Feb. 6, n-CoV has caused 564 deaths and 28,060 worldwide infections with 12 confirmed cases in the U.S. Those numbers already exceed the total number of cases of the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Isolated cases of this new coronavirus have been identified in 24 countries.

Rest assured, the bad news caused by 2019-n-CoV will grow exponentially worse in the coming weeks. 

No Simple Solutions

There is nothing surprising in this. Epidemiologists have long warned of the threat of emerging infectious diseases and pathogens. What makes the 21st century unique is the speed and growing number of pandemics.

This photo taken on February 3, 2020 shows a doctor being disinfected by his colleague at a quarantine zone in Wuhan, the epicentrt of the new coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province.

The threat posed by emerging infectious diseases and pathogens will not be resolved by simple measures. There are no silver bullets. The question that keeps physicians, medical entomologists, virologists and public health workers awake at night is, “Will this be the big one?” No one knows for sure.

Fortunately, to date, the mortality rate for those contracting 2019-n-CoV appears to be low. Equally important, preliminary reports suggest that the person-to-person transmission rate for this, though greater than SARS or influenza, is significantly less than other infectious diseases such as smallpox and tuberculosis. Viruses, however, are notorious for changing. That is why the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, said combating this public health threat is WHO’s highest priority.

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