Skip to main content

Straight Info on the 2019-nCoV Coronavirus


The outbreak of a new contagious virus in Wuhan has many people asking questions that the internet's experts are happy to answer.  As with any public health incident, the misinformation is difficult to separate from authentic guidance.

Today I was able to attend a discussion by animal virologist Dr. Illaria Capua.  She covered the topic with off-the-presses information and provided several action items. 

Dr. Capua made some clear points that I'll list as bullets for clarity.

  • Similar historical outbreaks.  SARS and MERS were also highly infectious coronaviruses, but were rapidly contained early because of their physical routes of transmission. 
  • Started in wildlife. These kinds of coronaviruses are transmitted to people from animals. Previous examples track transmission from chickens, pigs, camels and bats.  The 2019-nCoV virus likely originated from a bat. 
  • Numbers.  As of today, just under 9826 people are infected globally, and there has been 213 deaths (all fatalities in China).
  • Worldwide presence. The virus has spread to over 20 countries.  In the 14 cases of infection in Japan, one is a person that did not travel to China, indicating someone else in Japan vectored the disease unknowingly. 
  • Models predict wide spread. The virus emerged during Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, a time of heightened domestic travel for Chinese citizens. Some models predict that disease incidence will hit 100,000 people rapidly.

  • Slow initial response?  The first cases occurred in late November 2019, but the disease was reported to the WHO on December 31, 2019.  Animal trade was discontinued on January 7th, 2020. 
  • The outbreak will strain poor nations.  Industrialized nations like the US, EU and Australia are in a good position to manage cases.  However, there is substantial air traffic between China and Africa.  The Developing World does not have the infrastructure or resources to handle a significant outbreak, so fear is that it may spread rapidly in places least able to meet the challenge. 
  • The cost of the outbreak will be immense.  SARS was well contained and cost over $54 Billion USD.  Currently areas of the Chinese economy are virtually shut down, as many workers are on self-isolation and not reporting to work. This has the potential to influence world markets. 
  • There is a potential to greatly stress health care systems and associated resources.  There are no more masks available, drugs may come in short supply.  There is a possibility of this situation leading to social unrest. 
  • Get a flu shot.  Many unvaccinated (and some vaccinated) patients will develop flu-like symptoms and react inappropriately believing it is 2019-nCoV.  This will further tax limited health care resources. Also, influenza infections could augment the effects of 2019-nCoV if concurrent. 
  • Get good information.  The WHO has daily press briefings and an excellent website with daily situation updates. These are trusted sources.  
  • Do not lose trust in institutions that protect us.  The event can become much worse if we lose trust in guidance provided, especially if we adopt behaviors that are counter to good medical practice.  

These were Dr. Capua's major points. During the question and answer period it became clear how far the hysteria has spread.  In a room filled with university professionals the questions included:

"Why didn't they shut down all air travel immediately to and from China?"

"Can my dog get it?"

"I heard that they have a virus research center in Wuhan and that this is a virus that escaped." 

This is the kind of conjecture you might expect at Starbucks, but not in a room loaded with professors, administrators and science-oriented university employees. 

That's what is so important. If a university audience is affected by the hysteria and media to the point of such conjecture, imagine what other nonsense is out there?  

It is critical that we use the good resources to educate ourselves and others about this situation, and direct them to good resources to limit disease spread. 

Popular posts from this blog

CANCELLED - Science Silenced

I volunteered to teach this Sunday, on my time, pretty much all day.  I was going to be speaking at the 3rd Southern Seed School here in Gainesville FL.  Because of complaints to the organizers, I have been removed from the program. It is McCarthy-style removal of someone deemed "controversial" when there is no controversy.

I was originally slated to speak in three sessions. 

1. The History of the University of Florida Fruit and Vegetable Breeding Programs. I had neat old photos, cool history. 

2.  Plant Breeding and Genetic Improvement -- a topic with a lot of confusion among local seed-saving enthusiasts.  We were going to cover genetics and the need to understand pedigree and if seeds were saved from hybrids. We were going to touch on breeding and genetic improvement techniques from mutation breeding to the future of gene editing. 

3. Future Crops for Florida, a topic I have researched extensively and even designed and taught a course on this topic. We were going to cover pre…

What Is Their Goal?

I'm in my eleventh day in Europe.  I taught a wonderful science communication workshop, enjoyed time with many students and postdocs.  I mentored early-career faculty and reviewed the work and provided guidance to shape the future of a rising-star of an institution.  I was honored to speak at Brain Bar, a wonderful conference about the future. 

All of this came on my departure from social media, particularly Twitter. I've been watching and reading.  I also took down the majority of this blog.  I need to get my head down.  My mental health is taking a hit and the personal and professional inconvenience of being doxed and harassed is getting extreme. Here's what is happening now. 

Bank Accounts, Retirement Doxxed.

Somehow a former journalist turned hate-monger named Michael Balter obtained my personal records.  It is not hard to do.  Paul Thacker and University of California San Francisco posted my social security number a few months ago.  Once you have that, you find my birthd…

Scientific American Destroys Public Trust in Science

This is a sad epitaph, parting words to an old friend that is now gone, leaving in a puff of bitter betrayal. 
When I was a kid it was common for my mom to buy me a magazine if I was sick and home from school.  I didn't want MAD Magazine or comic books.  I preferred Scientific American
The once stalwart publication held a unique spot at the science-public interface, bringing us interesting and diverse stories of scientific interest, long before the internet made such content instantly accessible.  It was our trusted pipeline to the new edges of scientific discovery, from the mantle of the earth to the reaches of space, and every critter in between.
But like so much of our trusted traditional science media, Scientific American has traded its credibility for the glitz of post-truth non-scientific beliefs and the profits of clickbait.The problem is that when a trusted source publishes false information (or worse, when it hijacked by activists) it destroys trust in science, trust in s…