- Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness
- Virus SARS-CoV-2 causes infectious disease COVID-19
- In past, Coronavirus has led to two major outbreaks - SARS, MERS
New Delhi: The COVID-19 causing novel coronavirus was first reported in China’s Wuhan in late December 2019 and since then the world has come to a standstill. Earlier on March 11, addressing the media, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), declared the infectious disease as a ‘pandemic’. Dr Tedros said, “WHO has been assessing this outbreak round the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction. We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”
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— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) March 11, 2020
The novel coronavirus as a pandemic and the world’s battle against it raises few questions; most important being – what is a novel coronavirus and why is it fatal?
What Is A Coronavirus?
“Coronavirus is a family of viruses which have been detected since the 1960s and in fact, there have been two major outbreaks of the scary Coronavirus that is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2013 and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, says Dr Monica Mahajan, Director, Internal Medicine at Max Health.
According to the information shared by the WHO on their website, coronaviruses may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to the more severe diseases such as MERS and SARS.
The name of coronavirus comes from its shape, which resembles a crown or solar corona when imaged using an electron microscope.
What Is COVID-19?
What the world is battling right now is the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a new strain of Coronavirus which was detected only after the outbreak was reported in China’s Wuhan. The Novel Coronavirus, the source of which is unknown, causes the coronavirus disease 2019, abbreviated as COVID-19. The official name of the virus is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). According to the WHO, This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. Although, the two viruses are different.
What Are The Symptoms Of COVID-19?
The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to that of any other flu. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. According to the WHO, some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhoea.
These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention, reads the information on WHO’s website.
In case an individual witness any or all symptoms of COVID-19, experts suggest seeking medical advice and following preventive and precautionary measures to break the chain of the transmission of COVID-19.
What Is The Source Of COVID-19 And How Is It Transmitted?
Other viruses in the coronavirus family-like SARS and MERS were identified in animals like bats, dromedary camels which then infected humans following which the virus spread between people through people to people contact. While the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 has not yet been established, the theory that has been postulated is that the virus originated in bats and from there it transmitted to an intermediary animal, suspected to a pangolin or snake and then from there possibly affected humans.
The SARS-CoV-2 is thought to be spread from person to person mainly through respiratory droplets which are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. An individual can catch COVID-19 if he/she breathes in these droplets. This is the reason, WHO advises maintaining a distance of at least 1 meter from others.
How Is COVID-19 Different From SARS?
SARS belongs to the same large family of viruses as the novel coronavirus, therefore, the two are remotely related and are capable of causing severe disease. According to the WHO, based on the current situation, there are some differences,
Most importantly, the novel coronavirus does not appear to transmit easily between people while the SARS virus was much more transmissible.
How Is Novel Coronavirus Different From Other Pandemics The World Has Faced In Past?
In the 20th century, three influenza pandemics occurred – Spanish Flu caused by A (H1N1) virus, estimated to have caused 20–50 million deaths in 1918–1919; Asian Flu caused by A(H2N2) virus) in 1957-1958 and estimated to have taken 1-4 million lives; Hong Kong Flu caused by an A(H3N2) virus in 1968 and estimated to have caused 1–4 million deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in recent history. Mortality was high among people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. Since there was no vaccine available, the world resorted to non-pharmaceutical interventions like isolation, personal hygiene and others.
Later in 2009, a novel influenza A (H1N1) virus emerged and was designated as influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 virus. 2009 flu pandemic primarily affected children and young and middle-aged adults. The two vaccines were produced for the virus – H1N1 flu shot and H1N1 nasal spray vaccine.
If we look at the SARS-CoV-2, in India, the mortality is high among people with co-morbidity and older people. Just like other pandemics, as of now, there is no vaccine available against COVID-19 but around 100 projects for the development of a vaccine are underway. The world’s largest vaccine producer, Pune-based Serum Institute along with Oxford University may deliver a vaccine by September 2020.