New coronavirus (CoV) is the recent talk of the town; novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that is creating havoc in East Asian countries, especially China. Although the new type of coronavirus virus was first isolated on January 07, 2020, the first incidence of the disease was reported on December 31, 2019, in Wuhan City, the capital of China’s Hubei province. The patient was reported with pneumonia with unknown etiology.
As of January 26, 2020, over 1,975 people have fallen sick due to this virus, including 56 deaths, and the virus is now spreading rapidly. Few cases have been reported from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the Republic of Korea, where the travelers who visited Wuhan City were detected at their respective airports by thermal surveillance.
The virus can cause the common cold, fever with chills, sore throat, and headache to more severe diseases such as the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The disease is zoonotic, implicating that the virus can spread between humans and animals. Animal to human transmission occurs through the consumption of meat or animal products. That is why it’s first transmission has been traced back to the wet markets of Wuhan that trade exotic wild animal food and fish which has now been shut down.
It’s nothing new or surprising that the transmission of the virus from animals to humans exists. Earlier, the CoV which was responsible for SARS also traveled from bats to exotic cats, which were again sold in exotic food markets. And the aftermath of the epidemic of SARS is a well-documented tragedy. The genome sequencing of nCoV has identified 96% similarity with that of the bat coronavirus.
In India, no case has been reported so far as of January 26, 2020. However, as per some media reports, around 100 people have been kept under observation. And specimen from 7 people with mild respiratory symptoms who have traveled from China has been sent for investigations to the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
No drug or vaccine has been shown to be effective against coronavirus in humans so far. It has been reported that the nCoV and SARS CoV binds to the same receptor on human cells. Therefore, scientists are trying to block the receptors on human cells by which the virus finds its way to infect the human body.
Having said all this, one must follow the basic safety practices such as washing hands with soap, especially after returning from crowded places or any fish/animal market. Avoid any kind of close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections. Do not panic by reading any social media reports and let experts do the rest.
Written by: Saketh Kapoor, Research Associate, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine Centre, Yenepoya Research Centre, Yenepoya (Deemed to be University), Mangalore-575018, Karnataka, India.