Barney Stinson of the television show How I Met You Mother was wrong. New is not always better.
The latest news about the mystery pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China, is that scientists may have found a new virus. And this novel virus may be the culprit in the outbreak that has already left over 40 people sick and now a 61-year-old man dead.
Yes, this is the “mystery pneumonia” outbreak that I covered for Forbes last week. Now, as CBS News reported, a lead scientist in the ongoing investigation of the outbreak in China, Xu Jianguo, has said that it’s been “preliminarily determined” that a new strain of coronavirus may be the culprit. That would preliminarily suck because who wants yet another virus to worry about that can potentially kill.
Can you you imagine one of these viruses on your head?
While it may be good to have a real crown on you, you probably do not want one of these on or in you. That’s because there are now seven different types of coronaviruses that can infect humans. The most common types of these so-called human coronaviruses are two, 229E and NL63, that fall into the alpha subgroup, and two, OC43 and HKU1, that fall into the beta subgroup of coronaviruses. These four may not be that easy to remember because their names sound a bit like droids on Star Wars.
But that’s OK, because these four aren’t the most worrisome ones. They tend to cause mild-to-moderate upper respiratory illnesses that consist of cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, headache, sore throat, fever, and general feeling of bleck. Occasionally, the infection can involve your lower-respiratory tract, resulting in bronchitis or pneumonia, which is more likely to happen when your immune system, heart, or lungs are weakened.
The human coronaviruses to worry much more about are the remaining three. One is the SARS-Coronavirus (CoV), which causes, you guessed it, SARS or severe acute respiratory syndrome. This was the beta coronavirus that sickened 8,098 people and killed 774 around the world during the 2003 SARS outbreak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the SARS-CoV killed 14% to 15% of those infected.
A second is the MERS-CoV, which causes MERS or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. As the WHO describes, MERS was first found in Saudi Arabia in 2012. This beta coronavirus has also been quite a killer, with around 35% of those infected dying.
The third human coronavirus in this uh-oh group and seventh overall is this new coronavirus just found in Wuhan, China. It doesn’t have an official name yet and is listed on the CDC website as “Novel Coronavirus 2019.”
This new one is still a quite a mystery. The MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV, like other human coronaviruses, can spread from one human to another through contact with respiratory secretions. So far, word is that there haven’t been any clear cases of one human infecting another with “Novel Coronavirus 2019.”
For example, reportedly no health care workers who have been taking care of the patients with the virus have gotten sick themselves. Ah, but don’t rule out human-to-human transmission of the virus just yet. If human-to-human transmission is not possible then how the heck did so many people get infected? Did everyone somehow interact with the same group of animals? If so what animals are responsible? As they say, I have so many questions.
Plus, even if a virus can’t go from human-to-human now, who knows what may happen in the future? A new virus that has managed to finally learn how to infect a human can be a bit like a contestant who has finally made it intothe reality television show The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. It can explore and learn how to wreak further havoc. Eventually, it may figure out how to jump from one human to another. After all, viruses and reality show participants can evolve quite quickly.
Stay tuned as this remains an evolving situation. For now, many countries in Asia are taking precautions and screening those traveling from Wuhan. If you are traveling to Wuhan, don’t interact closely with someone who appears to be sick and don’t hang out with animals. You don’t want to get caught off guard the next time something new emerges about this new virus.