Sweet name for a deadly virus

Lubna Abdel-Aziz, Tuesday 28 Jan 2020


It is hard for anyone to avoid it.

Anywhere and everywhere, the talk is of a certain Coronavirus.

Strange that it would instill such fear and sadness, when at one time the name Corona brought memories of delicious chewy candy and wafts of the sweet aroma of a hot flavourful chocolate drink. No more.

Corona has acquired a new response when attached to the word “virus”. Why Corona? Coronaviruses get their name from their shape. Round viruses, they are surrounded by a halo of spiking proteins that make them look like a crown, (Latin for corona) or the corona of the sun. “We know less about the genetics, more about the way it appears under a microscope,” explains Brent Satterfield, chief scientific officer of Diagnostics Company.

China is in a state of bedlam and babel, no less, and the way things are turning out, the whole world may begin to feel it. A newly discovered virus, not previously identified, has, at this writing, killed 56 people with 2,000 infected and 30 million humans confined to their locations.

No Chinese New Year celebrations this year.

Surgical masks are worn at all times, if you can find them. Some 80 million masks were sold in two days and Taiwan banned their export to ensure sufficient use at home. No sales are allowed without a valid ID, restricting them to residents alone.

All this is disconcerting as the disease has travelled to Australia, France and the US as well as more than 10 Asian countries. Three cases in the US are under control. What about the rest?

Is the World Health Organisation (WHO) able to contain this, or are we all at the mercy of a virus transmitted by air, from human to human, multiplying exponentially, with no cure? So far the UN has refrained from declaring it a global health threat.

The Imperial College of London suggests the recorded cases may be more as the incubation period lasts two weeks. The illness is more widespread than we realise in the fog of viral war. We have no vaccine. Antibiotics are useless. Anti-viral drugs do not work. It is all up to our immune system. How is your immune system?

What the UN is waiting for to declare Coronavirus a health global threat is beyond comprehension.

Oh, lest we forget, it is worth mentioning, they have assigned it a genetic code (2019 n-CoV).

So many questions remain unanswered. Its sister virus SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) also broke out in China, killing 800 people. China was criticised for concealing the scale of the outbreak from November 2002 to April 2003. Virologists worked hard to fight it and Dr Carlo Urbani who first alerted the world to the existence of SARS died from the disease in 2003.

This time, 17 years later, the spread of a new deadly coronavirus is reviving memories of SARS. In the early stages of the outbreak, China seemed reluctant to reveal the international recognition of the threat, but when a video appeared showing Chinese health controllers, clad in full- body protective suits examining passengers on an airplane, global scrutiny forced the Chinese government to report the unknown disease to WHO by 31 December.

Like SARS, Coronavirus is traced to South China. In the city of Wuhan large populations of people live in close proximity to animals. Wuhan holds one of the many Seafood Wholesale Markets, common in China, that sell processed meats, live animals, chickens, donkeys, sheep, pigs, foxes, badgers, bamboo rats, hedgehogs, snakes, among others. This is normal fare in China. However, if the disease of an animal jumps to a human, this human can infect another human. Not before long an epidemic is born, possibly a pandemic.

SARS was transmitted by civet cats to humans, killing 800. Another Coronavirus, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) was transmitted by dromedary camels, killing 850 in 2013. In fact, several known Coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. Something to be thankful for.

They might, however, like our Royal Neptune from the fish market at Wuhan, unless we take drastic measures immediately.

China may be an epicentre for such risks but so are many other Asian countries with poor animal husbandry and open food markets.

Several scientists believe snakes are responsible for this new, incurable virus strain. The Chinese Kraut and Cobra may be the original source of the newly discovered Coronavirus that has triggered this outbreak. Other scientists disagree. We need more information and understanding of its life-cycle and source; how it is admitted and how it replicates are needed to prevent and treat the disease.

Called Zoonobic, viral diseases like SARS and MERS, meaning that the first patient infected, acquired the virus directly from an animal. While in the animal it underwent a series of genetic mutations that allowed it to infect and multiply inside humans.

Are you panicking yet? No need. Believe it or not, Coronaviruses go back to 8000 BC.

If you are coughing and sneezing you are suffering from a Coronavirus, the common cold.

Make sure, however, it goes no further. Cover mouth and nose when you sneeze; wash your hands, thoroughly, regularly; avoid crowds, people, company...

In other words, go to your room, shut your door, and keep your fingers crossed.

“The diseases which destroy a man are no less natural than the instincts which preserve him.”

 George Santayana (1863-1952)

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