Jan 11, 2020, 11:35am
Wuhan Coronavirus Outbreak Shows The Importance Of Sound Science, Sleuthing, And Cooperation
Judy Stone
Senior Contributor

The latest “novel coronavirus” emerged in Wuhan, China in mid-December and was quite rapidly preliminarily identified as likely a coronavirus, a common virus group which causes respiratory tract infections. This would be the third new coronavirus causing outbreaks in the past twenty years; it’s impressive seeing the scientific progress made since SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2003.

SARS, the first widespread and deadly coronavirus, spread globally, infecting almost 8100 and killing 774 in 37 countries before it was brought under control. Cases began in November 2003, and exploded over the first three months. It took until July to stop the outbreak.
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Scientists discovered the link to civets in live animal markets in China. Subsequently fruit bats were found to be the likely reservoir for the virus. At that time, China was initially reluctant to openly discuss the scope of the SARS problem. Other countries, as India and Peru, had experienced severe financial losses after epidemics were reported in their countries. Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Director general of WHO, helped gain the Chinese government’s cooperation. Greater transparency and sharing specimens and information was essential to stopping the epidemic, as were rigorous infection control precautions.

The next novel coronavirus was MERS, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2012. A major problem in identifying and stopping that epidemic was that the Saudi government was less than forthcoming about the cases. In fact, there were solid reports that the Saudi government even directed physicians to misreport the cause of death of patients.

ProMed Mail, an infectious disease internet-based reporting system, was essential in rapidly communicating information, just as FluTrackers is now. (Both deserve more support as invaluable resources).

MERS was found to be primarily spread person-to-person, although a small percentage of patients had direct contact with camels, likely the major reservoir. Bats were also found to be hosts for the virus. In that outbreak, 851 people died.

Fighting over patent considerations and sharing samples and information was vicious; you might want to read about virologist Ali Mohamed Zaki’s firing.

Wuhan coronavirus

Now we have this new virus emerging in China. This has been handled more openly than before. China first reported the unusual cases to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 31 December 2019 ....