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Coronavirus explained: death toll rises above 900, surpassing SARS and MERS



  Artist & # 39; s rendering of a man wearing a surgical mask.

Robert Rodriguez / CNET

China has been fighting for more than a month against an outbreak of pneumonia-like disease, first discovered in the central city of Wuhan in December 201

9. The wave of diseases is caused by a new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, that has now infected around 40,000 people and has claimed more than 900 lives.

The disease was first reported to the World Health Organization on New Year's Eve and in the intervening month was linked to a family of viruses known as "coronaviruses, " the same family responsible for SARS and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, as well as some cases of colds.

There are no approved treatments for coronaviruses, but on February 6, China began to enroll a small number of patients in a clinical trial with remdesivir, an experimental antiviral drug made by US pharmaceutical company Gilead that has not yet been approved for use, but has been promising in laboratory studies. "Although there is currently no antiviral data for remdesivir showing activity against 2019-nCoV, the data available in other coronaviruses gives us hope," Gilead said in a statement.

A special WHO committee declared an public health emergency of international importance on January 30, citing "the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems." Human-to-human transfer has been confirmed outside of China, including in the US, leading authorities around the world are starting to limit travel and enforce quarantine to protect themselves against the spread.

After another 81 deaths were confirmed in the Chinese province of Hubei on February 8, the death toll exceeded that of the SARS epidemic that spread throughout the world in 2002-2003. That outbreak killed around 774 people. A day later, the death toll exceeded 900 and reached the death toll from MERS, a similar coronavirus, which has killed 585 people since 2012. Those two viruses have a higher death rate, with SARS killing around 10% of those infected and MERS 34%, while 2019-nCoV floats around 2-3%.

The death toll still pales in comparison to that of flu – the flu – which, in the first four weeks of 2020 alone, killed 1,210 in the US, according to the CDC.

The situation continues to evolve as more information becomes available. We have collected everything we know about the new virus, what the future offers researchers and some steps you can take to reduce your risk.

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What is a corona virus?

Coronaviruses belong to a family known as Coronaviridae, and under an electron microscope they look like pointed rings. They are named after these spikes, which form a halo or "crown" around their viral envelope.

Coronaviruses contain a single RNA strand in the envelope and cannot propagate as a virus without entering living cells and hijacking their machines. The spikes on the viral envelope help coronaviruses bind to cells, giving them a way to come in, like opening the door with C4. Once inside, they turn the cell into a virus factory, using the molecular conveyor to produce more viruses, which are then sent from the cell. The virus progeny infects other cells and the cycle starts again. Typically, these types of viruses are found in animals ranging from livestock and pets to animals in the wild, such as bats. Some are responsible for diseases such as the common cold. When they make the leap to humans, they can cause fever, respiratory diseases and inflammation in the lungs. In people who are immunocompromised, such as the elderly or people with HIV / AIDS, such viruses can cause serious respiratory diseases, leading to pneumonia and even death.

Extremely pathogenic coronaviruses were behind SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome) outbreaks in the last two decades. These viruses were easily transmitted from person to person. SARS, which emerged in the early 2000s, infected more than 8,000 people and resulted in nearly 800 deaths. MERS, which appeared in early 2010, infected nearly 2,500 people and led to more than 850 deaths.

Where did the virus come from?

The virus appears to have originated in Wuhan, a Chinese city about 650 miles south of Beijing with a population of more than 11 million people. The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, which sells fish, as well as a panoply of meat from other animals, including bats, snakes, and pangolins, was involved in the spread in early January.

Prestigious medical journal The Lancet published a comprehensive summary of the clinical characteristics of patients infected with the disease dating back to December 1, 2019. The very first identified patient was not exposed to the market, suggesting that the virus might be somewhere else came from and was transported to the market, where it was able to thrive.

Chinese authorities closed the fish market on January 1.

Markets are involved in the origin and spread of viral diseases in previous epidemics, including SARS and MERS. A large majority of people who have so far confirmed that the new corona virus has come down have been at the Huanan Seafood marketplace in recent weeks. The market seems to be an integral part of the puzzle, but researchers continue to test and investigate the original cause.

An early report, published in the Journal of Medical Virology on January 22, suggested that snakes were the most likely animal reservoir for wildlife before 2019-nCoV, but the work was solidly refuted by two further studies just one day later , on Jan 23.


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