The ongoing outbreak of the 2019 coronavirus, officially termed Corona Virus Disease-19 (COVID-19) by the World Health Organization (WHO), is the latest instance of how biological risks are growing in our increasingly interconnected world. The exact reach of COVID-19 is unknown, but as confirmed case and death numbers surpass other modern coronavirus outbreaks, like the 2002-2003 SARS-CoV and 2012 MERS-CoV outbreaks, much of the world is preparing for continued infection spread. With the WHO’s declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), it is clear that the international community assesses the risk of infection to be very high in China, as well as at regional and global levels.
The outbreak was initially detected in Wuhan, a major city of China, and considered to be of zoonotic origins, meaning the virus has the capability of spreading between animals and humans. COVID-19-infected patients have reported illnesses ranging from mild symptoms to severely ill and dying. Per the most recent CDC reports, symptoms can include fever, cough, and shortness of breath with a tentative incubation period between 2-14 days before becoming symptomatic, similar to MERS. More serious cases can cause lower-respiratory illnesses, like pneumonia. The current transmissibility data is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses. Most often, transmission occurs from person-to-person by close contact, usually about 3-6 feet. Person-to-person transmission is thought to occur primarily via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land or be inhaled in the mouths or noses of people nearby. It’s currently unclear if a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.
Stymying the spread of emerging infectious diseases is still a tricky task. Although sequencing data for COVID-19 was amassed several weeks into the outbreak, the origin of the novel disease remains unknown. Global response has been cautious due to the novel nature of the virus. With no treatment other than supportive care, research for a vaccine or anti-viral therapeutic has commenced. However, such solutions figure to take at least 6 months, at best, until late stage clinical trials. Unlike a vaccine or therapy, the CDC has rapidly developed, tested, and internationally distributed diagnostic test kits. Identifying infected individuals is an all-important first step in combating the spread of the disease. The call for global pandemic preparedness remains unanswered, but the emergence of COVID-19 seems to be the wake-up call needed to generate a vital response
For an even more in-depth dive into COVID-19, join the Center for Security Policy Studies (CSPS) at GMU for a panel discussion on the broad implications of the coronavirus crisis, the role of the international community in global health management, and the implications for China, US-China relations, and East Asian security. The panel includes Dr. Stephen Morrison, Dr. Ashley Grant, and Dr. Ketian Zhang and will be moderated by Ellen Laipson, CSPS Director.
When: Feb. 21, 2020 at 5pm
Where: Van Metre Hall, Room 113
3351 Fairfax Dr., Arlington, VA 22201
Register for the event at: https://secure.touchnet.com/C20788_ustores/web/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCTID=1342&SINGLESTORE=true
For additional tools for monitoring COVID-19 please see the links below:
Michael Krug is a second-year graduate student in the Biodefense Master’s Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech and worked for several years in the pharmaceutical industry, accruing experience in the fields of molecular biology, drug development, and biotechnologies. His research interests incorporate national security and emerging dual-use technologies, specifically, synthetic biology and genome-editing techniques.
Photo can be found here.