News sources have been blowing up lately about a new virus that started in Wuhan, China in 2019. The colloquial name for the virus is the Coronavirus, but doctors and researchers know it by the name 2019-nCoV. It is related to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that broke out in Guangdong in southern China in 2002. Both of these viruses are part of the Coronaviridae family of viruses that cause flu-like symptoms and can be deadly if left untreated.
When it comes to infective diseases, doctors and researchers use a metric to determine how infectious the disease is. R0 (pronounced R-nought) is a measure of how many people, on average, each infected person can transfer the disease to before the disease is eradicated by their immune system (or before the disease kills them). If the disease has an R0 of 5, that means that every infected person will infect five others. Any value for R0 above one means that the disease will spread at an exponential rate, and any value under one means that the disease will die out on its own because it cannot infect enough people to continue its life cycle.
Experts haven’t come to a consensus about the R0 value for the new 2019-nCoV virus, but estimates range from 2 to 2.5. To put this into perspective, the R0 value for the common flu is between 1.4 and 1.6(for measles, it is between 12-18, and for the SARS virus, it is between 2 and 5.
WHO has reported an estimated 213 people have died in China due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus and a further 10,000 people have been confirmed to be infected. These numbers are nothing to balk at, but they are also not numbers that predict an apocalypse. The New Scientist indicates that there are drugs already on the market that can help with the spread and severity of the disease in the meantime, and a new drug can be developed in 6 months that can specifically deal with the Coronavirus.
The question remains whether or not people need to be worried about getting infected with the Coronavirus. Experts say that practising basic hygiene such as washing your hands regularly with soap and warm water, coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow and having sick people stay home instead of coming into work can all help in curbing the spread of the virus. Considering the history of such viruses, the threat level is low enough that people should not worry too much.
The Chinese ambassador to South Africa also reported on Monday (03/02/2020) that it is fairly safe for South African citizens working and studying in China to stay where they are. In fact, if any of them are infected without their knowledge, they pose a greater risk by leaving China than they do by staying there. By leaving the country they can infect countries that do not at the moment have any contact with the virus, so it is better to “quarantine” people in China so that the disease does not get the chance to spread.