A New Name
The new coronavirus we have been talking about has a new name: Covid-19. This is an abbreviation of the phrase Corona virus disease of 2019. Note that Covid-19 is the name of the disease, not of the germ. This is like the situation of AIDS and HIV. AIDS is the name of a disease, and HIV is the name of the virus that causes it. For Covid-19, the disease is caused by the virus now officially called SARS-CoV-2. This name of the virus indicates it is related to the SARS virus, and so is designated the second SARS like coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2.
The world has decided to use the phrase Covid-19 in talking about this illness and its virus, and we will too. So Covid-19 now replaces the Wuhan coronavirus, and 2019-nCoV as the way we will refer to this illness going forward.
The Latest Numbers
Johns Hopkins has developed a real time tracker, https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6
As of early on February 19, 2020, the total number of recorded cases reached 75,199 and the number of deaths 2,012.
For perspective, just in the US, the number of people infected with an influenza virus is about 30 million, and so far it has killed 8,000 just in the US.
The disease remains overwhelmingly a mainland Chinese illness in location with 74,186 of the 75,199 cases there. This means 98.6% of the infections are in mainland China.
Further, nearly all the deaths have occurred in mainland China, with Hong Kong being the only place with more than 1 death to report (currently that number in Hong Kong is 2).
The World Health Organization measures the spreadability of Covid-19 at around 2. That means, on average, someone with Covid-19 will spread it to two others. A recent research team from Scandinavia and China measure the spreadability at around 3. For context, a typical influenza virus has a spreadability of about 1.5 and as we know this is plenty to allow the virus to spread. So numbers like 2 and 3 raise concern that this virus might spread widely, but we simply do not know how it really will, yet.
There are some early indicators that the number of cases in China is actually rising at a slower rate, and the percentage of infected people dying may be dropping too, but again, the disease is too new to know for sure.
Coronaviruses are cold, or respiratory viruses. The coronavirus group is not new. About 25% of all common colds in the US are caused by very old coronaviruses that appeared in humanity nearly 10,000 year ago.
By contrast, Covid-19 first appeared in humanity in November of 2019, about 3 months ago.
New viruses tend to change their properties as they first propagate across the global human community. So most people expect some changes in just how easily it spreads, and just how deadly it will remain. This is why all the top experts say we simply do not know if Covid-19 will explode on the world scene, whether if it does it will be very deadly, or whether it will sputter into obscurity. We of course hope it sputters into obscurity, but the fact is that the virus is very, very new, and has not established its basic properties, yet.
News on Treatments
The CDC announced in mid-February that it has successfully grown the virus causing Covid-19 in its labs, and it is now being grown in research facilities. This step is necessary for vaccine development to prevent and helps develop anti-viral medicines to treat.
China recently announced interest in 3 anti-Covid-19 drugs. They are Favilavir, Remdesivir, and chloroquine. A neat tip is that any drug whose name ends in –vir is an anti-viral.
Favilavir is a new anti-viral and is the first such drug approved for use by any nation’s drug agency, in this case China. This means it will be widely used in China and we will see how well it works and what its side effects are.
Chloroquine is an old drug for malaria whose roots of use go back to the Inca people many centuries ago. There are some early indications it may help treat Covid-19, we will see if those indications hold up.
Remsdesivir is a very new anti-viral, early indications suggest it may help treat Covid-19, we will see.
No vaccine is yet available for Covid-19 and production remains in the research phase, no vaccine will be available anytime soon.
- The world of coronaviruses is an old world for humanity, with many strains being in our communities for close to 10,000 years. Many of these old, old and familiar coronaviruses cause about 25% of the common colds we all get in the US.
- This new coronavirus has a new name, Covid-19, which is the name of the illness it causes, not the virus.
- Cases continue to mount, almost all in mainland China (98.6% of cases), now over 75,000 with over 2,000 deaths.
- The key questions for any new virus remain unknown, as this virus and its disease are only about 3 months (!) old. Those key questions are, how many people are really going to be infected by this germ? And, once infected, just how dangerous and deadly is it?
- It is very, very important to know that no one knows the answers to these questions. It could end up spreading widely and being dangerous, but it also could end up not causing vast numbers of illness and turn out to be no more dangerous than other flus. We have no choice but to see how this new virus settles into being.
- New drugs therapies are in development now and one is approved for wide use across mainland China.
- The virus that causes Covid-19 is now being grown in labs, opening hopes for a vaccine, but that remains in the future.
Once again we hope this virus settles down and becomes less of a threat than we fear, we will be monitoring the situation closely and reporting often.
To your health,
Dr. Arthur Lavin