The outbreak of China’s coronavirus, which has now spread across nine major cities and provinces, as well as another six different countries, including the United States, is fast becoming a global health concern and nobody knows what it is or how it started.
The first reported case of this mystery coronavirus came about on 31 December last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Since then, across China, as a whole, there have been 830 confirmed cases of infected patients and the death toll has risen to 26, according to a BBC report. China has now locked down the entire Hubei province, as a result, in an effort to contain the virus. However, it has already spread outside of the province, even making it as far as the United States, where a Texas A&M student is suspected to be its second case of an infection after a trip to China. Other countries that have confirmed cases are in Vietnam, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. However, the World Health Organisation is yet to declare it as an international health crisis, due to the relatively low number (13) of infected patients outside of the Chinese border. Only one case (in Thailand) has not been carried from Wuhan.
Right now, the symptoms of the disease are known to be a fever, followed by a dry cough and shortness of breath where patients need to be hospitalised. However, knowledge of the disease is only known through extreme cases of patients that are in hospital. Milder symptoms or symptom-less carriers are yet to be found or examined.
So what’s the big concern here? Isn’t this China’s problem? They’re implementing travel bans, cities are being shut down and it should all be under control, right? Well, not really… The virus has spread and that’s a fact. There’s no telling where else it’s gone, even if people have been infected outside of China through the people traveling back from there. And those are only the confirmed cases. The MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London has even said it’s possible that the actual number of infected people could be as high as 4,000.
Another critical problem is that nobody knows what has caused the disease or where it comes from. Coronaviruses are spread through “animal reservoirs”, such as swine flu, which is spread through pigs and caused a global health crisis in 2009, and sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which took Asia by storm in 2002 and was spread through birds.
But, until we can find solid evidence about where this comes from and how its been transferred to human carriers, we will be no closer to finding a cure and people will simply be kept in quarantine, practically waiting to die. Right now, though, all signs point to this particular coronavirus having originated from a seafood market or through bats- a point that I will return to shortly. What’s an even greater concern is that diseases like this mutate over time and they spread faster, become more deadly and the epidemic can spiral out of control.
With that said, in my opinion, the truly scary point is that the virus may have come from fish and/or other marine wildlife. Firstly, warming oceans are a breeding ground for deadly bacteria – a well established scientific fact. Secondly, while avain flu is generally restricted to birds’ migration patterns and swine flu is limited to land animals (pigs) and, at worst food distribution channels, a coronavirus spreading through the ocean could reach every corner of the globe and the sheer diversity of marine wildlife means that the disease could mutate billions of times over before it reaches land again. Allow me to reiterate, however, that nobody knows anything for sure yet about this disease. It just so happens that this disease broke out in the most polluted, overfished part of the world and at a time when oceans are warming up rapidly and climate change is worse than ever before…
As millennials, we need to treat this as a massive cause for concern. Warmer and wetter climates, as well as warmer oceans are going to mean that mystery viruses like this are going to spread faster and further than ever before. This may only be the start of a global trend and these biological hazards could become a reality for us. So be sure to pay close attention to the developments in China, educate yourself on the symptoms of emerging diseases, change your behavioural patterns, be mindful of what you eat, seek medical advice – do everything you can to make sure that you don’t fall victim to potential health crises like this.