WASHINGTON (AP) – One day China reports that the epidemic of respiratory illness in the Asian country is beginning to slow down, but the next day thousands of new cases are reported. Experts have a hard time determining if the epidemic worsens or if an accurate count of the patients has finally been achieved.
Doubts about the new virus hinder the efforts of health authorities to stop its transmission around the world.RELATED
This is what one should know about the disease:
WHAT IS THE NEW VIRUS?
It is a type never seen of coronavirus, a large family of viruses that affect animals and humans. Some types cause the common cold, but two types have caused serious epidemics: SARS (acute severe respiratory syndrome) in late 2002 and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2012.
The World Health Organization officially called the new disease COVID-19, an acronym in English for “coronavirus disease”, a new virus that appeared late last year. Frequent symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. While some patients get pneumonia, most cases seem relatively mild.
HOW LONG IS THE EPIDEMIC EXTENDED?
There is confusion about that. The count in China exceeded 66,000 on Saturday, a huge increase over days ago. Chinese health authorities attribute it to a change in the counting method. Instead of waiting for a laboratory test to confirm the diagnosis – there is a long delay in the analysis of the samples – patients now count on the basis of symptoms and a lung radiograph.
The WHO seems to be a method of doubtful efficacy and wants to make sure that people suffering from influenza or other respiratory infection are not trapped.
Outside of China – in other parts of Asia, the United States, Europe and Canada – fewer than 600 cases have been reported. The first case in Africa was reported Friday in Egypt. Almost all were travelers from China and people who were in contact with them.
DOES THE QUARANTINE WORK?
China quarantines 60 million people in the most affected cities, an unprecedented measure. Without an exact count of the sick and when they contracted the evil, it is difficult to know if it will work.
Typical quarantine measures target people at risk, those who were in the most affected area in China or who came into contact with other people in the world. Thus, authorities gain time to prepare if the virus is spread.
However, how to quarantine large numbers of people is a difficult problem. The Diamond Princess cruise ship, with the largest cluster of infections outside of China, was quarantined in Japan with more than 3,500 passengers and crew on board. Experts wonder if having locked them in such proximity actually aggravated the transmission. US officials said Saturday they will evacuate their citizens on board to place them in quarantine at Air Force bases in California and Texas.
The United States keeps about 600 people evacuated from the Chinese province of Hubei in quarantine. They are kept in air bases, separated from the rest of the people, but with place to walk. For 14 days – considered the incubation period – they are monitored and tested if they exhibit symptoms.
Until Saturday there were 15 cases in the United States, including three of those evacuated.
COULD THERE BE A TRANSMISSION NOT DISCOVERED IN OTHER PARTS?
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tries to discover it by adding the coronavirus analysis to the network that tracks influenza. When a patient gives a negative for it, the laboratory will analyze it for the new virus.
This will initially be done in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago and New York, but then it will be extended to the rest of the country, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the CDC.
HOW IS INFECTION TRANSMITTED?
Like all respiratory viruses, it is transmitted mainly by the microdroplets emitted by coughing and sneezing. What happens to surfaces such as doorknobs touched by a person who blows his nose? If the person who touches him then puts his hand to his mouth, nose or eyes, it can be spread, as is the case with influenza, but specialists believe that the virus cannot survive long on surfaces. Frequent hand washing is a good method to avoid infection with any virus.
ARE THERE TREATMENTS AND VACCINES?
They look for both. Currently, serious patients receive standard treatment for pneumonia, with fluids and oxygen. In China, scientists test drugs created for other viruses to see if they are efficient with it.
Several groups of researchers are looking for possible vaccines, but specialists insist that it will take at least one year, at best, to have a general-purpose vaccine.