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Commentary and Observations from
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Coronavirus Update: Thoughts on Its Origin

Coronavirus Update: Thoughts on Its Origin

We've known for years that influenza virus occurs in both humans and animalsincluding swine and birdsand that influenza virus has the ability to jump species from animals to humans (eg, swine and avian flus). Influenza virus has also been able to mutate sufficiently in order to transmit from person to person; this can occur quite efficiently when it is a novel strain and humans have little immune defenses built up.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that are common in many different animal species, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats. Rarely, animal coronaviruses have been known to infect people and then spread between themsuch as with Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and now 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The 2019-nCoV is a betacoronavirus, like MERS and SARs, all of which have their origins in bats. In January 2020, scientists in China learned the genetic sequence of 2019-nCoV and shared the information with the international scientific community through an established database. The genetic sequences from infected patients in the United States are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.

Early on, many of the patients in the 2019-nCoV outbreak in Wuhan, China were linked to a large seafood and live animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread. Later, a growing number of patients reportedly did not have exposure to animal markets, indicating person-to-person spread. Chinese officials report that sustained person-to-person spread in the community is occurring in China. Person-to-person spread has also been reported outside of China, including in the United States and other countries.

Public health officials worldwide are concerned about the public health threat of the 2019-nCoV; containment measures have been instituted internationally, including suspension of air travel in and out of China. The risk from a novel viral outbreak depends on characteristics of the virus, such as transmissibility, the severity of the illness, and any available prevention or treatment options. At this time, treatment for 2019-nCoV is supportive, and strict international and local containment measures are in place. Current reports indicate over 44,000 confirmed cases and over 1100 deaths worldwide. Stay tuned for more information and updates regarding 2019-nCoV.


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Filed under: Health Policy and Trends, Infectious Diseases, Public Health

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