More than 100 people have died from a coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, and at least 4,600 have been infected across 17 countries.
The virus, which is marked by fevers and pneumonia like symptoms, might have originated in a wet market in Wuhan. Coronaviruses are zoonotic diseases (meaning they can jump from animals to people), so places where shoppers, vendors, and live and dead animals are put in close proximity can be breeding grounds for disease outbreaks.
The spread of this new virus conjured a sense of déja vu for some who remember the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak that started in November 2002. That was also a coronavirus, and it also jumped to people from animals in wet markets. SARS emerged in Guangdong and infected 8,098 people over the course of eight months, killing 774.
Patients experienced fevers, headaches, and a type of deadly pneumonia that could cause respiratory failure. Experts called SARS “the first pandemic of the 21st century,” since it spread across 29 countries. The disease hasn’t been seen in humans since July 2003. So far, however, concerns that the Wuhan coronavirus is the next SARS are likely overblown. The two virus’ symptoms and origins may be comparable, but their severity is not.
Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Friday that the new coronavirus appears to be less severe than SARS. It might be more contagious, however, given that this outbreak is spreading faster than SARS did. Ma Xiaowei, minister of China’s National Health Commission, said the coronavirus’ incubation period ranges from one to 14 days, the South China Morning Post reported. By comparison, SARS’ average incubation period was seven days. The illness can jump between people before patients show symptoms, which makes it challenging to control the virus’ spread.
“An initial first impression is that this is significantly milder than SARS. That’s reassuring,” Eric Toner, a senior scientist at John Hopkins University, told Business Insider. “On the other hand, it may be more transmissible than SARS, at least in the community setting.” Here are some of the crucial differences between this outbreak and the SARS one 17 years ago.
- The first report of the Wuhan coronavirus came on December 31, 2019. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people in the central province of Hubei, China. SARS originated in the Guangdong province in southeastern China, near Hong Kong.
- According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 50% of people impacted by SARS were age 65 or older, while the other half of infected patients varied widely in age. So far, experts report that the median age of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus is around 75.
Many of those individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease. Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, told Business Insider that children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the coronavirus’ most severe complications.
- SARS didn’t spread as fast in its first three weeks as the new coronavirus has, according to the WHO. It took almost five months for SARS to spread to 3,000 people. The Wuhan coronavirus has infected almost 3,000 people in just 28 days.
- According to a study by Chinese researchers in Hong Kong, one person with the new coronavirus could pass it on to three to five others — a statistic called the virus’ R0 value. The authors of the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, said their results suggest the coronavirus has the potential to spread globally. WHO researchers, however, estimate that the coronavirus’ R0 value is lower: between 1.4 and 2.5 people.
- The new coronavirus’ fatality rate has not yet been determined with accuracy, but it seems to be around 2.3% so far. SARS was more deadly, with a fatality rate of 9.6%. At this phase of the SARS outbreak (28 days in), however, only five people had died.
- The Wuhan coronavirus, unlike SARS, isn’t considered a pandemic. The WHO has not declared it a global public-health emergency, either. One reason SARS spread to so many places around the world is that Chinese authorities initially attempted to hide the outbreak from the WHO.
- The Chinese government didn’t inform the WHO about SARS until February 14, 2003 — 88 days after the first reported case. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, doctors in Beijing were ordered by authorities to hide SARS patients from WHO officials during inspections. During the initial stages of that outbreak, the Chinese government also concealed information from the public, which exacerbated the spread of disease.
- Liu Heng, an adviser to China’s cabinet, told Reuters that this time around, China announced the outbreak to the public much more immediately. “We are doing much better now … We are paying greater attention to preventing the epidemic,” he said on January 22.
- Chinese public-health experts also worked to quickly share the new coronavirus’ genetic information with researchers around the globe. “The speed with which this virus has been identified is a testament to changes in public health in China since SARS and strong global coordination through the WHO,” Jeremy Farrar, an infectious-diseases specialist who worked on combating SARS, told Reuters. By contrast, it took four months for SARS’ genome to be published.
- By sharing information about the new coronavirus genome, scientists have been able to work together to analyze how the illness is spreading and mutating. That work also helps experts track down which animal the coronavirus jumped from.
- In the case of SARS, and probably this coronavirus outbreak too, bats were the original hosts. They then infected other animals via their poop or saliva, and the unwitting intermediaries transmitted the virus to humans. “Bats and birds are considered reservoir species for viruses with pandemic potential,” Bart Haagmans, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
- SARS jumped from bats to weasel-like mammals called masked palm civets, then to humans. According to a group of scientists who edit the Journal of Medical Virology, the culprit spreading the Wuhan coronavirus could be the Chinese cobra, but that has yet to be confirmed. An analysis showed that the genetic building blocks of the Wuhan coronavirus closely resemble that of snakes. Researchers traced SARS to a population of horseshoe bats in China’s Yunnan province. These bats lived in a cave just 1.1 kilometer from the nearest village.
- Here are five viruses that most likely came from bats and how the outbreaks compare.
Wuhan coronavirus compared to other major viruses
Sources: CDC; World Health Organization; New England Journal of Medicine; Malaysian Journal of Pathology
*As of November 2019 **As of January 28, 2020
- Another difference between the SARS outbreak and this new coronavirus outbreak is that Chinese authorities quickly instituted travel lock-downs this time. Authorities quarantined Wuhan on Thursday, halting all public transportation, including city buses, trains, and ferries. The order prevents any buses or trains from coming into or leaving the city and grounds all planes at the Wuhan airport. The city of Huanggang went into lockdown on Thursday as well, as authorities closed subway and train stations. By the following day, 10 additional cities — Chibi, Enshi, Ezhou, Huangshi, Suizhou, Qianjjiang, Xianning, Xiantao, Yichang, and Zhijiang — had followed suit with their own travel restrictions.
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said efforts to quarantine cities could help Chinese authorities control the virus’ spread and “minimize the chances of this outbreak spreading internationally.” “What they’re doing is a very, very strong measure, and with full commitment,” Ghebreyesus said in press conference on January 22. These restrictions affect at least 45 million people in China.
- During the SARS outbreak, it took officials at least four months to institute any quarantine measures. Anthony Fauci, a disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, told CNBC that he thinks China is “doing much better this time.”
- Neither SARS nor the Wuhan coronavirus has a vaccine. “If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer,” Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider. Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine-development plans. But getting a vaccine to market has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines.
In conclusion scientists studying the new coronavirus say the infectiousness of the virus is not as strong as SARS, but have added that people are being infected at a faster rate. David Heymann, the chairman of a World Health Organization committee gathering data on the outbreak, says the virus appears to spread more easily from person to person than previously thought.
The death rate of the latest coronavirus outbreak is far smaller than that seen during the SARS outbreak. Like the SARS virus, the Wuhan coronavirus is also being traced to animals, including bats, believed to have been consumed by Wuhan locals from a popular fresh meat market. It is always better to pay attention better how we can prevent the disease happen by keeping the good habit such as, exercising, wear a mask whenever we get sick and always seek for a help from health care provider as soon as we feel that we get the symptoms of the disease.
Healing is good but preventing is better.