Monday, May 20, 2013

Coronavirus: a pandemic in the making?

This coronavirus business could prove interesting.

Two more people in Saudi Arabia have recently died from the virus.  This comes as a report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that transmission of the virus can occur from human-to-human contact.

"Of most concern... is the fact that the different clusters seen in multiple countries increasingly support the hypothesis that when there is close contact this novel coronavirus can transmit from person to person," the World Health Organization said on Sunday.

The virus, which is known to cause pneumonia-like respiratory symptoms in humans and other animals, is of the same family as the virus that caused the Asian outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) back in 2003.  It isn't certain yet whether or not this is a mutated strain of SARS, but epidemiologists are looking into the idea.

This has a few people worried.  Not only because there is the potential for a worldwide pandemic here, but also because of what might happen if...nothing happens.  A post on Discover magazine's site last week described this kind of a scenario.  In news stories like this one and books like David Quammen's Spillover: Animal infections and the next human pandemic, we keep hearing about how deadly new viruses seem to be popping up frequently but do so quietly.  That is until there is a major outbreak.  As Quammen was cited as saying:

"Terrible new forms of infectious disease make headlines, but not at the start. Every pandemic begins small. Early indicators can be subtle and ambiguous. When the Next Big One arrives, spreading across oceans and continents like the sweep of nightfall, causing illness and fear, killing thousands or maybe millions of people, it will be signaled first by quiet, puzzling reports from faraway places — reports to which disease scientists and public health officials, but few of the rest of us, pay close attention. Such reports have been coming in recent months from two countries, China and Saudi Arabia."

Yet each time we hear news like this and no true pandemic results (thank God), does the public and The Powers That Be become more or less prepared for when one actually occurs?  Do we tune future news of viral epidemics out just as we do with so much other "doom and gloom," thinking it's not going to be a big deal because it certainly hasn't been in the (recent) past?

If so, we do it at our own peril.  I have said it before, there is no other form of life as tenacious as a virus.   If we do beat down the coronavirus or SARS or what have you, one will eventually mutate or coalesce and arise totally of the new to stymie us.  I'm talking about one that can spread and replicate faster than we can find a treatment for.  That is when we will start taking the word "pandemic" seriously.  By then, however, it may be too late.

All of this doesn't even take into consideration our own tinkering with viruses.  Imagine a weapons-grade bug getting loose on accident or released by an unscrupulous individual or individuals?  As we inch towards the capability to do "gene hacking" in one's basement, is it that much of a stretch to imagine people like the Boston Marathon bombers cobbling together a bioweapon at home and then setting it loose?  Yes, it should give you pause.

If this has whetted your appetite to learn more about insidious and deadly germs (and who could possibly resist, right?), the Discover piece provided this link to "one-stop shopping" for all of your pandemic curiosities.

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1 comment:

  1. On FB, PeteS said: "Another virus to make us worry."

    As I said, something tells me there always will be.


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