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Coronavirus explained: everything we know as cases exceeds 70,000



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

Robert Rodriguez / CNET

Health officials around the world continue to fight against an outbreak of respiratory disease, first discovered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The cause was due to a new corona virus, called SARS-CoV-2, which has now infected more than 70,000 people in China and claimed more than 1

,700 lives.

The wave of diseases was first reported to the World Health Organization on New Year's Eve and in the following weeks was linked to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, the same family responsible for the diseases SARS and MERS , as well as some cases of a cold. On 11 February the WHO and other organizations agreed to treat the new disease COVID-19 (for " co rona vi r d call isease 20 19 ").

A special WHO committee declared on January 30 a public health emergency stating "the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems." Human-to-human transmission has also been confirmed, including in the US, and authorities around the world have limited journeys and enforced quarantines to protect themselves from spreading.

Some of & # 39; the world's largest technology companies were adversely affected by the outbreak that closed stores and factories in China. Barcelona & # 39; s Mobile World Congress & # 39; the world's largest telephone exchange, has taken the unprecedented step to cancel the entire show on February 12 due to growing concerns about the spread of the corona virus.

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" (corona is Latin for crown) around their viral envelope. Coronaviruses contain a single RNA strand (as opposed to DNA, which is double stranded) in the envelope and, like a virus, cannot propagate without entering living cells and hijacking their machines. The spikes on the viral envelope help corona viruses bind to cells, allowing them to find their way in, such as opening a door with C4. Once inside, they turn the cell into a virus factory – the RNA and some enzymes use the cell's molecular machines to produce more viruses, which are then sent from the cell to infect other cells. This is how the cycle starts again. Typically, these types of viruses are found in animals ranging from cattle 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) in the last two decades. These viruses could easily be transmitted from person to person, but it was suspected that they had passed several animal intermediaries: SARS was reduced to civet cats and MERS to camel camels. 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.

On February 11, the WHO called the new disease COVID-19 . "Having a name is important to prevent the use of other names that may be inaccurate or stigmatizing," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, during a briefing. "It also gives us a standard format to use for future coronavirus outbreaks."

The Coronavirus Study Group, part of the International Commission for Taxonomy of Viruses, was responsible for naming the new coronavirus itself. According to a preprint paper that was uploaded to bioRxiv on 11 February, the virus will be called SARS-CoV-2. The group "formally recognizes this virus as a sister of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses (SARS-CoV & # 39; s)", the species responsible for the outbreak of SARS in 2002-2003. The virus itself was originally given the temporary designation & # 39; 2019-nCoV & # 39 ;.

To avoid confusion:

  • The new coronavirus is officially called SARS-CoV-2.
  • The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is officially called COVID -19 .

Where does 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 distribution 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 or jump from human to animal and back again. Chinese authorities closed the fish market on January 1.

Markets have been 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 reservoir for animals in nature for SARS-CoV-2, but the work was solidly refuted by two further studies just one day later, on January 23.


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