The (Novel) Coronavirus

What is the coronavirus? Well, a coronavirus is a type of virus that affects animals, such as birds, bats, and other mammals – including humans. In the past, we have seen versions of coronavirus in outbreaks such as SARS in 2002-03, and MERS in 2015. When we are talking about the coronavirus today we are likely referring to the novel, or new, coronavirus. On February 11, 2020 the illness, or disease, caused by this novel coronavirus was given an official name by the World Health Organization (WHO): Corona Virus Disease, or COVID-19 for short.

The name is based off of WHO naming guidelines which promotes using descriptors in the name to allow for less confusion; here we have a coronavirus that promotes respiratory disease in those infected, and was first noticed in late 2019. Corona comes from the Latin word for crown; under a microscope, the viral cells have numerous crown-like growths protruding off of them.

Coronavirus Symptoms

As of this writing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms can onset between 2-14 days after exposure. They have based this on what has been seen previously in MERS, an illness resulting from a type of coronavirus discovered in 2015. 

Coronavirus symptoms in humans include fever, fatigue, shortness of breath, and a dry cough. In severe cases (less than 1 in 5) we have seen pneumonia and organ failure.

A diagram showing symptoms of COVID-19; SOURCE: Wikipedia

There is however emerging evidence, while still speculative, that suggests symptoms can onset after as much as 24 days. If that were to be true, it could mean much of the quarantines that are currently in effect are insufficient to properly sequester the infected.

Coronavirus In Dogs

In late February 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that a dog in Hong Kong tested “weak positive” for COVID-19, from swabs of its oral and nasal cavities. At the time of this writing, experts aren’t sure if the dog is actually infected, or simply picked up the virus particles from an infected surface. The dog belongs to a 60-year old woman who developed symptoms and tested positive.

According to the CDC website:

“Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. Some cause illness in people, and others, such as canine and feline coronaviruses, only infect animals. Rarely, animal coronaviruses that infect animals have emerged to infect people and can spread between people. This is suspected to have occurred for the virus that causes COVID-19.” 

It’s suspected that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 initially spread from a bat to a human. While there is no hard evidence that pets, such as dogs or cats, can contract or spread COVID-19, this is an evolving threat and the CDC is recommending anyone infected to limit contact with pets until more information is known about the virus that causes this illness. Avoiding contact means:

  • No petting
  • No snuggling
  • Avoid being kissed or licked
  • Do not share food
  • Have someone else care for your dog or pet while you are sick.
  • If you must care for your pet while you are infected, make sure to wash hands before and after you interact with them, and wear a facemask.

Most coronavirus infections produce few clinical signs in dogs. Commonly, these types of infections in dogs cause increased lethargy and decreased appetite. Diarrhea is another common symptom associated with past coronaviruses, sometimes containing blood or mucus.

Coronavirus Source

As of now the source of the virus is contested. We know that it was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Initial reports pointed to a tainted bat product at a seafood market in Wuhan, but emerging evidence suggests that patient zero had it before they went to the market. Also the type of bat that is thought to have initially spread the disease is native to an area over 900 kilometers, or 559 miles, away from the market in question.

Adding to speculation about the source of the novel coronavirus is the recent publication (subsequently rescinded) of a paper from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. As this paper points out, there are two laboratories conducting research on bat coronaviruses within close proximity to the market. The closest lab to the market (911 feet) is the Wuhan Center for Disease Control & Prevention (WHCDC); the second laboratory is about 7.5 miles away and belongs to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Both of these laboratories experiment on the same types of bats that are thought to have initially spread this virus to humans.

Figure 1. The Huanan Seafood Market is close to the WHCDC; SOURCE: This paper

Another interesting fact about these laboratories is there have been documented leaks and incidents of human exposure in the past. In fact, China is not the only country to conduct virology experiments on animals. Ostensibly for vaccine research, countries such as the U.S. and Canada also conduct such experiments, with varying degrees of success. These experiments have been going on for decades and recently came back into practice in the U.S. in 2017, a few years after a congressional moratorium banned the practice following a number of highly publicized breaches.

Indeed, vaccines can be created and researched without the need to use deadly pathogens. However, the argument for their continued use is that if you can create (and research) the deadliest versions of a disease, you can better defend against it. Until more is known about the novel coronavirus, speculation about its source can border on the verge of conspiracy theory. However, here is what we know or can reasonably speculate to be true:

  • The virus was initially reported in Wuhan, China.
  • The coronavirus causing COVID-19 was initially spread from a bat.
  • There are two laboratories conducting research on bat coronaviruses within close proximity to the market thought to be the initial source.
  • There have been documented leaks in the past at at least one of these facilities, severe enough for scientists to impose self quarantine.
  • China has placed restrictions on what scientists and doctors are allowed to tell the public, under threat of arrest.

Again, this is heavily speculative. The reason it is important to know the source of the coronavirus is because it will help us better defend against outbreaks in the future. If it’s the case that this virus was initially spread from an exotic food market, perhaps it would be best practice to ban the sale of bat soup. If it’s the case that it came from a laboratory conducting research, perhaps we should consider locating these facilities far from dense population centers – or consider ending deadly pathogenic experimentation altogether. These are valid questions that can’t be answered until we know more, but we should keep an open mind as we consider new evidence.

Coronavirus Spread

Since there is no vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. There are a number of things that a person can do in order to mitigate the spread of this virus, which the CDC calls Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs). These actions, largely based on social distancing, are actions that individuals can take in order to mitigate spread throughout the community. When a person sneezes or coughs, more than half a million virus particles can be spread to those nearby.

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can be spread in at least two ways:

  • Person-to-person
    • This novel coronavirus is thought to be aerosolized, with the ability to jump to people at least 6 feet away – especially after a cough or a sneeze.
  • Contact with infected surfaces
    • Touching an infected surface and then one’s own mouth, nose, or even eyes, is thought to spread the infection.

Until a vaccine or effective treatment is found and made readily available, these NPIs are among the best methods available to keep this disease in check. Some of these actions include:

  • Stay home when you’re sick
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue
  • Distance yourself from sick people, at least 6 feet.
  • Wash hands frequently
  • Clean frequently used surfaces such as doorknobs often.

There is emerging evidence that those who have recovered from COVID-19 can later become reinfected. Reinfection is thought to be more severe, as current treatments can weaken the heart and render the body unable to cope with a second infection. A competing argument is that the patient in question had not fully recovered, with the virus laying dormant under the radar of current testing methods. We need more data before we can draw any conclusions about whether or not a patient can become reinfected, and until such time we can only observe and cautiously speculate about the true nature of this novel pathogen.

What Is A Vaccine?

A vaccine is a treatment which makes the body stronger against an infection. Vaccines are usually made from a weakened or killed form of a particular microbe or its toxins, resulting in an agent which resembles the disease-causing microorganism in question; this strengthens the immune system against the real infection.

A vaccine is a way to build your body’s natural resistance to a disease before you get sick, and will not be effective in people who have already become infected. Those who become infected before a vaccine has been properly administered will need to be treated by other means.

According to experts, it could take at least 12-18 months from the initial breakout of this novel coronavirus before we see an effective treatment or vaccine. As of this writing there are at least a dozen drugmakers working on a vaccine or antivirals dealing with the novel coronavirus, which causes the illness known as COVID-19.

Epidemic vs Pandemic

An epidemic refers to a sudden increase in the number of people with a disease above what is normally expected. A pandemic is an epidemic that has spread throughout the world, affecting large populations of people in most countries and on most continents.

Pandemic viruses are able to spread easily because people have not been exposed to them in the past and likely won’t be immune, and there is usually no vaccine or effective treatment (existing or readily available) to help ward them off. Historically we have seen this with the Spanish flu in 1918, and the swine flu in 2009 – both being caused by versions of the H1N1 influenza virus.

Animated map of confirmed COVID-19 cases from 12 January to 29 February 2020; SOURCE: Wikpedia

According to the CDC, current global circumstances regarding COVID-19 suggest that a pandemic is likely, if not imminent. In truth, we are already in the midst of a pandemic, as the situation meets the definition even if governing bodies are loathe to admit it. For the time being these incidents are still being classified as “outbreaks” – though the response to them is, admittedly, the same. How bad this pandemic will turn out to be is still anyone’s guess, and while the CDC is cautioning against panic, they are advising people to be prepared against shortages in food and medicine.

Flu vs Coronavirus

A better comparison would be the flu vs. COVID-19 or Influenza vs. COVID-19. Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by different types of influenza viruses. COVID-19 is an illness that is caused by a type of coronavirus. While both illnesses are caused by viruses, they are distinct from one another.

One of the ways we can compare the two viruses, in terms of severity, is to look at the number of infections and resulting fatalities. Dividing these two numbers can give us a fatality/death rate. It’s important to note that numbers regarding COVID-19 are highly subject to change as testing improves and more infections are reported in the coming weeks. We are still in the early stages of understanding this novel coronavirus and the resulting illness, COVID-19. As might be expected, more is known about the flu since it has been studied for over a century.

InfectionsDeathsDeath RateVaccine?
COVID-19Over 93,000 worldwide; 125 in the U.S., as of 3/3/2020 Approx. 3200 worldwide; 8 in the U.S., as of 3/3/2020 Widely varies; see below.No.
The FluApprox. 1 billion cases worldwide; 9.3 million to 45 million cases in the U.S. per year. 291,000 to 646,000 worldwide; 12,000 to 61,000 in the U.S. per year. Approx. .05% – .13%Available and effective at treating some of the most dangerous types.

Another way to make a comparison between the seasonal flu and the coronavirus, is to look at the R0. An R0 (pronounced “R-naught”) is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. It’s also referred to as the reproduction number, since the disease reproduces as it infects new people. The R0 can be thought of as a representation of how many people the average infected person will infect. In order for a disease to replicate itself, the R0 must be greater than 0, lest it die off.

The R0 for seasonal flu is around 1.2; for the novel coronavirus it seems to be around 2.28. That means that those infected with this novel virus, thus far, appear to have gone on to infect an average of 2.28 persons. This would mean that the novel coronavirus is almost twice as contagious as the seasonal flu.

For a look at how the death rates compare, continue on.

Spanish Flu

Known as the Spanish flu, the 1918 influenza pandemic involved the H1N1 influenza virus and infected around 500 million people, or around 27% of the world population at the time. The death toll is anywhere between 40-100 million people – making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history. 

If H1N1 sounds familiar, that might be because it reappeared in the 2009 flu pandemic, also known as swine flu, resulting in between 700 million – 1.4 billion people infected, or 11-21% of the world population at the time. Although more people were infected during the swine flu compared to the Spanish flu, it was not as deadly – resulting in “only” 150,000 – 575,000 deaths.

Because this outbreak occurred during World War 1, censors in allied countries – including the United States – limited the information of early reports of illness and death to keep up morale. In neutral Spain this was not the case, and so their newspapers were allowed to report on the true severity of the pandemic – even when the King himself became infected. This resulted in giving the false impression that Spain was especially hard hit, and why this pandemic has come to be known as the Spanish flu

The origins of the Spanish flu are not clear. For many years it was hypothesized to have started at a military base in Kansas or France. Recently it is speculated to have started in northern China, migrating with over 140, 000 laborers that were brought into Europe to assist with manual labor during wartime.

How Bad Is The Coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus results in an illness known as COVID-19 in those persons that it infects. The severity of that illness varies widely in individuals. It appears that 4 out of 5 persons (80%) infected recover with relatively benign symptoms. Those most susceptible to severe or fatal symptoms are the elderly and those with certain underlying medical conditions.

As mentioned above, looking at the numbers of those who have recovered vs. those who haven’t can be useful in determining the severity of this illness. Death rate, or fatality rate, is calculated by dividing the number of deaths by the number of cases.

COVID-19 Death Rate By Age; SOURCE: 3/2/2020

As we can see, the death rate greatly increases for those persons 40 years old and above, roughly doubling for each subsequent acquired decade. Men are also slightly more likely than woman to have a fatal reaction to COVID-19.

COVID-19 Death Rate By Sex In Confirmed Cases; SOURCE: ibid.

A comorbidity is the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Comorbities are often referred to as pre-existing conditions. In the case of COVID-19 the presence of certain pre-existing conditions greatly impacts the fatality rate.

COVID-19 Death Rate By Comorbidity; SOURCE: ibid.

The death rate for a patient who reported no pre-existing, or comorbid, conditions was 0.9%. Again, this number is likely to change as more cases are confirmed. In the interest of comparison, the seasonal flu has a death rate of .05-0.13%. A rough estimation of how much deadlier COVID-19 is than the flu is anywhere from 7-20 times – though that number needs to be taken in context.

As we can see, the question of “how bad is the coronavirus?” depends on individual circumstances. Younger, healthier people – children especially – have less to worry about than older folks with underlying medical conditions. Current data suggests that the most susceptible population to a fatality from COVID-19 would be males over the age of 80 with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

How To Survive A Plague

It is important to quarantine yourself away from the source of infection, usually people and infected surfaces. You have two choices: bunker down in your home, or get out of town.

In most cases, staying home and away from those infected will be enough to properly sequester yourself from infection. It’s important to have enough supplies available in order to survive a self-imposed quarantine. Be sure to stock up on supplies that you actually enjoy, as having to subsist on food that you detest can lower morale and result in mental decline. Buy chocolate.

Depending on the severity of the pandemic, fresh water could become a concern. It’s vital to have enough fresh water available and plans should be made accordingly. Staples like toilet paper and toothpaste will never go to waste. Remember, one of the best defenses to an airborne viral infection is social distancing – avoiding long lines can also help you avoid infection. Medicines such as DayQuill and drinks with electrolytes, such as Pedialyte or Gatorade, may also be a good idea in this case. You’ll want to stock up on everything that you may need not only to avoid shortages, but also to avoid needing to go back around other people.

A list of supplies might look something like this:

  • 5-20 gallons of potable water
  • 20 lbs of rice
  • Dehydrated potatoes
  • Lentils and assorted beans
  • Pasta and canned sauce
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Peanut Butter
  • Trail Mix
  • Spam
  • Chocolate
  • Backpack
  • Portable Water filter
  • Flashlight
  • Weapon of some kind
  • Lighter
  • Sleeping Bag

Another option is to leave town. If the case is severe enough to leave your home and most of your belongings, you might not want to go to another town. If you are seeking desolation along with natural resources such as fresh water, consider heading into the mountains. Find yourself a secluded basin or valley, and set up camp – preferably near fresh water.

The mountains have offered human beings sanctuary for eons, and continue to be a place of refuge for those who are hardy enough to make the journey. In the mountains you’ll likely be able to find fish, and other game such as elk or deer depending on your locale. This is where a fishing pole and a rifle come in handy. 

You’ll need some form of shelter, such as a double walled tent or an improvised truck bed. Warmth will be important, so make sure your sleeping bag is up to the task. A water filter, such as the sawyer squeeze, is paramount to ensure continued access to potable water – and make sure you have spare parts, such as O-Rings. 

A book may also be important, to help pass the time. Lord of The Flies might be appropriate, or perhaps the eerily prophetic Dean Koontz novel, The Eyes of Darkness, which revolves around a severe pneumonia like illness that originated in a bio-lab in Wuhan, China.

Any thoughts on the coronavirus? Leave them in the comments below.

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