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New year, New Coronavirus?3 min read

The findings of a new strain of an already well-known “common-cold” virus have the world up in arms. This is what you need to know regarding 2019-nCoV, aka 2019 Novel Coronavirus:

Coronaviruses are already a well-known family of viruses common in many species of animals, including humans. They cause the common cold and symptoms are usually mild. They can also cause pneumonia and bronchitis in some circumstances, but these cases are typically seen in the elderly or immunocompromised populations. Immunocompromised includes anyone without a fully functioning immune system, sometimes related to a genetic predisposition or cancer. 

So, if forms of coronavirus already exist, why are the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other health agencies (including the NYU Student Health Center) so concerned about 2019-nCoV? Basically, we don’t know the extent of how lethal this viral strain will be. While the typical coronaviruses seen in the U.S. cause the pesky cold, other strains from other parts of the world have been more deadly. Both severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) stemmed from coronaviruses. 

2019-nCoV originated in Wuhan, in the Hubei province of China. The first infected were locals who shopped in the seafood and meat market in the Wuhan city center. This strain of coronavirus is more likely to cause pneumonia than the strains we typically see in the United States. Because of this, it has received a temporary name called NCP, for novel coronavirus pneumonia. As of February 8, 2020, the total number of confirmed cases worldwide is around 35,000 with death totals over 700. Only 2 deaths have occurred outside of China. There are 12 confirmed incidences of 2019-nCoV in the USA. None of which have been in the tristate area. The CDC keeps an updated record 2019-nCoV incidences in the United States here. The Trump Administration has since declared the outbreak of 2019-nCoV a national emergency, and travel restrictions have been placed on non-American citizens or residents coming from China. A mandated quarantine for Americans who have been in the Hubei province in the past two weeks is a first in 50 years, issued by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC). 

The mortality rate of 2019-nCoV has been trending at around 2% and those infected who have ultimately succumbed to the virus tend to be older and have comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other illnesses. While the threat to the general American public remains low, it is our responsibility, as a society, to protect our vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with cancer. 

These are the sub-populations the 2019-nCoV could do the most harm to. In light of the potential dangers posed for those groups, the travel restrictions from China and the mandated quarantines are sensible policies. That said, it is quite possible the 2019-nCoV will fade as winter leaves us, which tends to be the case with many other respiratory viruses. In the meantime, considering the low potential risk for the vast majority of the U.S. population, it is probably safe to leave the facemasks at home…

Photo Credit: Medical News Bulletin

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