Number of Coronavirus Victims Skyrockets: Scientists Worry There is No Cure

by Hannah Rutherford       The coronavirus is a deadly pandemic sweeping the globe and has taken the lives of hundreds and infected thousands in just a month. Although the virus can start as merely a cough or a slight fever, symptoms can progress into shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. In the past week, the death toll has doubled from 725 to nearly 1,400 individuals, and China’s only hope for a vaccine to combat this disease has died under mysterious conditions. 

Li Wenliang, the doctor who first identified the coronavirus in late December of 2019, was apprehended by Chinese officials and police officers after he exposed the potentially fatal illness sweeping the Wuhan province over social media. Wenliang was instructed not to reveal the extent of the virus, but as the number of victims grew, he decided that the Chinese people had a right to know the truth. Shortly after he divulged sensitive information regarding the virus over social media, he was arrested, and supposedly exposed to the coronavirus from a patient that he had treated previously. Li Wenliang died on February 7th, barely a month after the first case of the illness was reported.

The death toll is currently placed at 1,384 confirmed deaths–all but two took place in China, with 64,473 people infected, 10,613 of which are in critical condition. Although the vast majority of coronavirus cases were reported in the country of origin, China, the nearby regions of Japan, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong all have more than 30 established cases. In addition to this, the coronavirus soon entered the United States through a Chicago woman who visited the Wuhan province. There are currently 15 cases across America. Four of these instances are people who reside in the Bay Area, including a couple in Santa Clara County. 

Furthermore, many passengers aboard the Diamond Princess, a luxurious cruise ship that departed from Japan on January 20, have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The infection rate nearly doubled to 219 people overnight, and this thousand-foot vessel has quickly become second to only China regarding the number of coronavirus cases. There are approximately 2,000 travelers on board, with an additional 1,000 crew members, and although the Diamond Princess is currently safely docked in Yokohama, Japan, the ship has become a quarantine zone, meaning not a single passenger is allowed to depart the boat in fear that the coronavirus will continue to spread through Japan and all around the world.

Scientists believe that the coronavirus originated in the Wuhan province at an illegal food market, also known as a “wet” market. In such locations, vendors and stalls pack into minuscule spaces, and massive amounts of slaughtered animals are sold. Although the coronavirus was previously known only to attack animals, this illness contains a certain genome that is known to mutate notoriously quickly, especially in packed and bacteria-infested places such as an illegal slaughter market where the virus could easily jump from animal to person. 

“The more we learn about it, the greater the possibility is that transmission will not be able to be controlled with public health measures,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a Canadian scientist and doctor who specializes in the study of infectious diseases. McGeer contracted SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003 and has been researching similar illnesses ever since, even traveling to Saudi Arabia to attempt to slow the spreading of the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak. Having lived through a comparable virus, McGeer takes a pessimistic approach to the issue and believes that China may not have the equipment to detect coronavirus cases before they spread to others. “[The investigation of] the exported cases, I think, really support[s] the argument that there’s a lot of mild disease that is not being detected in China at the moment for the very good reason that they just can’t do it.” Unfortunately, this may mean that carriers of the coronavirus could easily pass on the disease to somebody more vulnerable and susceptible to illness.

There has been much controversy over which animal in particular that the coronavirus has been contracted from, whether it be Chinese vipers or even pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters. However, recent evidence suggests that the virus was passed on from bats. According to John Cohen, a staff writer at sciencemag.org, “[Experts] found that it was most closely related to relatives found in bats. A team led by Shi Zheng-Li, a coronavirus specialist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, reported on 23 January on bioRxiv that 2019-nCoV’s sequence was 96.2% similar to a bat virus.”

The coronavirus has also shown similarities to the 2003 SARS outbreak, which is also likely to have originated in various bat species. Although the SARS outbreak was considered a massive crisis when it first appeared, the coronavirus has long since surpassed it considering the number of those infected, with nearly eight times as many cases as the 2003 disease. However, experts are encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t seem as deadly as the SARS disease that  proved fatal to one in ten people who contracted it, while only 2% of coronavirus victims are predicted to die.

Although the virus is quickly spreading around the world, some scientists remain positive that the coronavirus will eventually fade away, and that a vaccine may soon be discovered. It is also important to note that 7,183 people have completely recovered from the illness, setting the current, and steadily increasing, recovery rate at nearly 80%.

Bibliography

Coronavirus Update(Live) –
https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

Coronavirus death toll tops 600 as number of cases passes 31,000 – https://www.cbsnews.com/live-updates/coronavirus-usa-confirmed-cases-news-cruise-ship-death-toll-evacuations-latest-2020-02-06/

What we know about the coronavirus, from symptoms to treatment – https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-we-know-about-the-wuhan-virus-11579716128

Wuhan coronavirus likely started in a Chinese wet market – https://www.businessinsider.com/wuhan-coronavirus-chinese-wet-market-photos-2020-

Mining coronavirus genomes for clues to the outbreak’s origins – https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/01/mining-coronavirus-genomes-clues-outbreak-s-origins

Cruise Ship’s Coronavirus Outbreak Leaves Crew Nowhere to Hide –

Coronavirus onboard Diamond Princess cruise spreads: At least 135 cases, 20 Americans
https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2020/02/10/coronavirus-diamond-princess-cruise-ship-japan-more-cases/4711446002/

Coronavirus – Symptoms & causes
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/symptoms-causes/syc-20479963?page=0&citems=10

Image Credit: https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2020/02/05/802896668/in-quarantined-wuhan-hospital-beds-for-coronavirus-patients-are-scarce

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