News outlets are reporting that the “coronavirus” that was first detected in Wuhan, China is sweeping across that country, causing the Chinese government to try to quarantine entire cities of millions of people to try to stop the spread of the virus. Nevertheless, cases have been reported in Thailand, Japan, and even in the United States, where a man in the state of Washington who recently returned from China was found to be infected.
It seems like there is always some huge health disaster for us to worry about. This week, it’s the Wuhan coronavirus. Should we be concerned about it?
The link above is to an L.A. Times article that provides some basic information about the Wuhan coronavirus. Coronaviruses are common in humans and some other animals, but the Wuhan variation is a new strain that hasn’t been seen before. After some people began showing pneumonia-like symptoms, health officials traced the origin of the conditions back to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, China. Initial research indicates that the Wuhan strain may have come from the handling of snakes at the market, with the virus jumping from snakes to humans. (At this point, one can almost hear Indiana Jones saying: “Snakes! Why does it always have to be snakes?”)
The key issue for most of us is determining how the virus is transmitted, and what we can do to avoid getting it. The virus appears to be moving from human to human via the airborne route, which is why you see pictures of people in China wearing masks that cover their noses and mouths. Viruses that are conveyed by air can spread rapidly and are the most difficult to contain. And, from the reports of cases outside China, that’s what has happened here. Still, it appears that some people are more prone to becoming infected than others — exactly why that may be so is one of the things researchers are examining — and severe illness, and death, has for the most part occurred only in people who are older and otherwise dealing with significant health issues. The man from Washington infected with the virus, for example, is being monitored and is reported to be in good condition.
I tend to be a fatalist about these kinds of things. I’ll pay attention to the news about the coronavirus, but I’m also content to let the CDC and other public health officials and scientists do their work and figure out how to deal with the Wuhan coronavirus, just as they have dealt with SARS and Ebola and other global health issues. I’m confident that, if I need to go out and buy a mask, they’ll let me know.