The coronavirus epidemic is clearly a serious global problem: in a few weeks, it has spread from China to more than 80 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people so far, and causing more than 3,400 deaths.
But we must also know that, for this reason, we are challenged in different ways, minute by minute, all over the world, and we look at the advancement of Covid-19 in real time – news alerts, huge headlines, hysteria on social networks – and that puts us at risk of losing some essential context.
This virus is obviously an enormous challenge: medical, political and – perhaps more importantly – social and economic. But it is worth remembering that the world has never had better tools to fight it, and that if we are infected, we are unlikely to die from it. In a work carried out by the English newspaper The Guardian, which listened to several scientists, among them Ignacio López-Goñi, professor of microbiology and virology at the University of Navarra, in Spain, a list of nine reasons is made to look at the new coronavirus with tranquility:
1 – The virus is known. As López-Goñi wrote for The Conversation in France, the virus causing severe pneumonia in Wuhan was identified in just seven days after the official announcement on December 31. Three days after that, the genetic sequence was available. HIV, by contrast, took two years to be identified after it appeared in mid-1981, López-Goñi noted. We also know that the virus is natural, that it is related to a virus found in bats, and that it can mutate, but it does not seem to do it very often.
2 – We can do tests to find out if we are infected. On 13 January – three days after the publication of the genetic sequence – a reliable test was available, developed by scientists in the virology department at the Charité university hospital in Berlin, with the help of specialists in Rotterdam, London and Hong Kong.
3 – We know that the virus can be contained (albeit at considerable cost). China’s draconian quarantine and containment measures appear to be working. As of Thursday, 120 new cases were reported in Wuhan, the lowest number in six weeks, and for the first time since the outbreak began, there have been no cases anywhere in the rest of Hubei province. Several Chinese provinces have had no new cases for a fortnight or more and are reopening their schools. In many countries, infections are contained in defined groups, which could allow them to be contained more readily.
4 – Catching it is not that easy (if we are careful) and we can control the contagion very easily (as long as we try). Frequent and careful hand washing, as we all know now, is the most effective way to prevent the transmission of the virus, while a solution of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide or bleach will disinfect the surfaces (but never the three substances together). To be considered at high risk of coronavirus contagion, we would need to live with someone, or have direct physical contact with someone infected, have been in the coughing or sneezing radius of someone infected (or wear a contagious garment), or be in face-to-face contact with someone infected, within a radius of two meters, for more than 15 minutes. We are not talking about any possible contagion by someone who crosses us on the street.
5 – In most cases, the symptoms are mild, and young people are at very low risk. According to a study of more than 45,000 infected people in China, 81% of cases caused only minor symptoms, 14% of patients had symptoms described as “severe” and only 5% were considered “critical”, with about half of these cases being reported. result in the death of the sick. Only 3% of cases concern children under 20 years old, children seem little affected by the virus and the mortality rate for children under 40 years old is around 0.2%. The rate increases in the age group above 65 years, reaching almost 15% in the age group above 80 years, especially in those who have previous heart or lung problems. Calculating mortality rates during an ongoing epidemic is difficult because it is unclear how many mild or asymptomatic cases have been tested, but the best estimate we have so far for coronavirus is 1.4% – somewhere between the 1918 flu and the 2009 swine flu.
6 – People are recovering. As the daily count maintained by the CSSE of the American University of Johns Hopkins shows, thousands of people around the world are confirmedly recovering from the coronavirus every day.
7 – Hundreds of scientific articles have already been written on the subject. Type Covid-19 or Sars-19 in the search engine of the PubMed website of the US National Library of Medicine and you will find, just five weeks after the virus appeared, 539 references to articles about it, dealing with vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, diagnosis and clinical practice. This is an exponentially faster rate of publication than during the SARS epidemic, notes López-Goñi – and most articles on the coronavirus in these publications are freely accessible.
8 – There are vaccine prototypes. Commercial pharmaceutical and biotechnology laboratories such as Moderna, Inovio, Sanofi and Novavax, as well as academic groups from the University of Queensland in Australia – many of whom were already working on vaccines for similar SARS-related viruses – have prototype preventive vaccines under development , some of which will soon be ready for human testing (although their effectiveness and safety will take time to be guaranteed, of course).
9 – Dozens of treatments are already being tested. By mid-February, more than 80 clinical trials were underway for antiviral treatments, according to the journal Nature, and most have already been used successfully to treat other diseases. Drugs like remdesivir (Ebola, Sars), chloroquine (malaria), lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV), and baricitinib (rheumatoid polyarthritis) are being tested in patients who have contracted the coronavirus, some as a result of research that integrates artificial intelligence.