We have been with the Wuhan coronavirus for almost two months and we still do not know how it is spread exactly

The unknowns around 2019-nCov, better known as the Wuhan coronavirus, remain huge. One of the most important is the question of "how is it spread?" Almost two months after its appearance, we still do not know the mechanisms.

This is important in order to find better ways to keep the virus at bay. The mechanisms still remain in the shade and, little by little, some disturbing data appear, such as the fact that it can be transmitted without suffering from symptoms. Still, the danger from the virus appears to remain confined to China.

Is the Wuhan virus transmitted asymptomatically?

It is curious because we have sequenced the genetic material of the Wuhan coronavirus, discovered many things about its origin and its similarity to other coronaviruses ... but it has not served us, until now, to understand how the virus is transmitted exactly. And it's funny because we know coronaviruses quite well.

These are the causes of the flu and, we know, they are transmitted through objects contaminated by infected people: by touching a doorknob, a glass, a person ... The virus can be present from saliva droplets or other secretions. It is not airborne and a properly isolated patient is safe. Although it lasts a short time outdoors, the humidity of the cold helps it to stay longer.

It is also not transmitted by people who come out of the infection period, which usually lasts about five days. During them, the virus is reproducing freely and the person becomes a vector of contagion. Coronaviruses do not usually have asymptomatic vectors, that is, people who carry the virus and are capable of infecting others but have no symptoms.

The Wuhan coronavirus, unlike other coronaviruses, could be transmitted by people without symptoms

This is where one of the unknowns we have comes in: in the Wuhan coronavirus it seems that it does occur. In other words, it has been observed that the virus could be transmitted during its incubation period, which lasts about 14 days, as well as during the infective period. The problem, as we said, is that we do not know for sure: we do not know if it actually does it or not, what is its real infectivity rate, if it is transmitted through the air (which does not seem to be), or how long the virus lasts when fresh air...

Prevention at all costs, when you don't know how it works

According to experts estimate, the R0, the contagion rate of a pathogen, of the Wuhan coronavirus is between three and five. This means that a patient has the potential to infect between three and five healthy people, roughly. To give us an idea, the rest of coronaviruses have an R0 of approximately 1.2. In comparison, the 2019-nCov has much greater potential.

And we don't know why. The first thing we need to resolve precisely is this point. We urgently need to know how the virus is transmitted so that we can stop it immediately. What if we can't do it? Sometimes determining the molecular mechanisms of action of a virus can take years. But we cannot wait years to stop its advance.

In such a case we only have prevention. Prevention, by the way, that it is working quite well. At the moment, the public health emergency, although elevated to severe, has only been determined in China. Cases outside the country are still few, although there are already several thousand confirmed. This indicates a great job of containment.

At the moment, this is the best answer: contain, prevent, quarantine. Despite the harsh social implications that this has, by not knowing the mechanism of action of the virus, and not being able to have any drug or prophylactic measure, it is the only thing we have left. The WHO warns that self-protection is the most effective way of preventing a contagion, both by ourselves and by others: the use of a mask, avoiding direct contact and good hygiene. By now, 5,970 cases of infection have been confirmed in China, and just a few dozen outside its territory.

The deceased officers are 132, although it is expected that they will increase during the following hours. Will the problem extend far beyond China? At the moment, the hopes are bright, although a few hundred patients scattered around the world are not ruled out. Of course, despite its infectivity, it must be remembered that only 20% of cases suffer more severe consequences and the lethality of the virus, at the moment, is even lower than that of common seasonal influenza, although this, As we have already told you, it is one of those unknowns that remains to be solved.

Images | Wikimedia, CNN

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