What we still don't know (and how little we do) about the mysterious Wuhan Virus

The fledgling Wuhan virus is causing an understandable commotion: despite the fact that those affected number in the hundreds and the deceased reach almost twenty, we know very little about it. This encourages fear and concern.

Is there a reason for this? Since it appeared in December last year, the virus appears to have been spreading slowly. But we do not know its true potential or virulence. The WHO is still deciding whether to launch the public health emergency internationally or not. Meanwhile, the world continues to ask questions.

The Wuhan virus, is it very virulent?

This is probably the biggest unknown about 2019-nCoV, as the virus is called. We don't know how virulent it is. Virulence must be distinguished with lethality or dangerousness. Virulence speaks of its potential for transmission and expansion. The most dangerous viruses are virulent and lethal.

From the looks of it, the Wuhan virus would only be transmitted in very direct contact. This is a barrier to their virulence.

From the looks of it, the Wuhan virus would only be transmitted in very direct contact. This is a barrier to their virulence. However, we do not know for sure. What's more, even though there are only about 600 confirmed cases, in reality we could be talking about thousands of cases of contagion, as some experts have pointed out.

Supporting this hypothesis, we have sensitive information such as the case of a single patient who has infected fourteen people. In short, we do not know its virulence mainly due to the slowness of information from China, famous for its secrecy. As almost all cases have occurred within the country, information to determine virulence is lacking, something that is delaying the determination of a state of emergency, if necessary.

Is the 2019-nCoV virus very lethal?

The truth is that we don't know either. Again, the fact that most of the cases have occurred in China, and with only 17 deaths within the country, at least official, does not allow us to know how lethal it can be. At the moment, and according to these data, almost all of the elderly and / or sick patients.Outside of China there are no fatality data since infections are very scarce at the moment.

The most plausible hypothesis is that 2019-nCoV has a relatively low rate and little suspicion of being particularly dangerous. To further complicate matters, the shadow of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which caused 348 confirmed deaths and more than 5,000 infections in China alone, has prompted an immediate quarantine response and was controlled by the Chinese government, leading to further complicates monitoring at this point of the problem.

What does the Wuhan virus do?

Another big question: what exactly are the symptoms, how does it affect us, what happens to us when we catch it? The truth is that we do not know. There is still no specific clinical picture, no etiology, or anything concrete. We have a table of symptoms very similar to other coronaviruses, such as the flu, with high fever, coughs, malaise ... But we lack a clear table that allows both the diagnosis and the action protocol, which for now is quite generic.

What's going on in China?

Another big question: not long ago we learned that the entrances and exits of Wuhan and six other cities have been blocked: Huanggang, Zhijiang, Ezhou, Qianjiang, Chibi and Xiantao. Despite the fact that the information is leaking, citizens report through social networks as the roads, railways and airports are completely closed. So is the passage on foot and it is not allowed to enter or leave the city, which remains officially in quarantine.

A sense of panic has spread in Wuhan as the Chinese city of 11 million people was put on lockdown in an attempt to quarantine a deadly virus believed to have originated there. # ChinaCoronaVirus #CoronaVirus #CoronaVirusOutbreak pic.twitter.com/xjob1q8tov

- Raheel Khan (@RaheelNama) January 23, 2020

This means quarantining more than twenty million people. In networks you can find all kinds of audiovisual documents, from the closings of the highways to disturbing men dressed in white fumigating the streets, passing through a deserted city. What is happening? Officially we still know very little.

How many people are affected?

At the moment there are more than 600 confirmed cases, however, we do not know for sure. We don't know because we don't know how far the virus has gotten in the first place. Second, again we find the Chinese information screen. As we said before, despite official data, the estimates of some virologists count thousands of those affected.

There have also been 17 deaths, almost all of them elderly or with respiratory problems. The vast majority of patients are within China, but there are already at least seven other countries with confirmed positive cases. Among them are: USA, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Macao and Thailand. Other suspicions, such as the case of a Chinese woman in France, also remain to be confirmed. All this makes it very difficult to know how many affected there really are. Google has gathered on this map the most up-to-date official information on the geography of infections.

What we do know about the Wuhan virus

Despite all the unknowns, concern is accelerating research on this virus. Little by little, some doubts are clarifying. Although there are still many questions to answer, we can already solve the following:

When and where did the Wuhan virus appear?

Last December, a small group of those affected by a disease very similar to the flu or the dreaded SARS and MERS were detected for the first time. The first tests were puzzling because they did not test positive for any of the known viruses.

With this in mind, the researchers began the search for the new virus. This is not particularly surprising because viruses mutate very quickly and are sometimes difficult to follow. The chronology is not clear due to China's hermeticism, but a few days later the new virus, which was called 2019-nCoV, was sequenced, making its genetic information available to all researchers.

Thanks to this, monitoring people with similar symptoms, a battery of analyzes could be made with which a reconstruction of their expansion was traced, comparing the genetic data of patients and their movements in the previous days. All indications are that the first contagions took place in a seafood and live animals market in Wuhan, central China, in late December.

Where did the virus come from?

Coronaviruses are among the most variable viruses, not to use a technical word, that exist. They are also among the clearest and most prolific cases of zoonosis. Zoonosis is the term that indicates the spread of a disease of animal origin. This is not common since viruses and bacteria are often very specific and selective for their hosts. Among the exceptions are, as we said, coronaviruses, which mutate easily and usually affect human beings, coming from some animal.

In the case of the 2019-nCoV, or Wuhan virus, this proved from the beginning to have many similarities to the beta-coronaviruses present in bats. A recent comparative study of its genome has traced its possible origin to snakes, sold alive in some markets in Wuhan. Although it was thought that the virus could come from snakes' contact with bats, and that it would have passed through snakes to humans, researchers doubt that this really was the case. What we do know is that its origin is in bats.

Images | Wikimedia, CNN

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