As the world fears that the deadly Coronavirus may become a devastating global phenomenon, the race is on to develop a vaccine to treat this rapidly spreading contagion. As global attention has shifted to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the lethal disease, the pressure is on to find a cure before it spreads to more people and regions. Currently, diagnosed cases have been found outside of China in Australia, the United States, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates. Countries in Asia that have been affected include Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam, amongst others. The death toll as of January stands above 130, with over 6000 more confirmed cases. There is the hope of combating this pathogen on the horizon though, as Australian scientists have managed to grow Coronavirus in labs. This is often the first step to being able to develop a vaccine against the virus.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses, which cause illnesses in humans ranging from a common cold to more serious forms. Life-threatening forms of the virus, such as MERS and SARS, can cause fatal respiratory complications. Most types of Coronavirus are not dangerous; however, several strains of the pathogen have proved deadly in history.
In 2003 a type of Coronavirus called severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) broke out killing over 750 people across the global. It is believed this variation also originated in China.
Later, in 2012 a strain of Coronavirus called Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) occurred killing over 850 people since the initial outbreak. This variation of Coronavirus originated in Saudi Arabia and then spread to other nations across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.
As of early this year, a new strain of Coronavirus was identified by the World Health Organisation, called Novel Coronavirus. This is the cause of the current health epidemic in China.
What are the symptoms of Coronavirus?
Symptoms of Coronavirus to look out for include headaches, a runny nose, shortness of breath, fever, coughing, a sore throat, general weakness, and feeling unwell. It is imperative that if you experience any of these symptoms that you stay indoors away from others and seek medical assistance.
To prevent the spread of disease always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and frequently wash your hands.
How did the Novel Coronavirus start?
The recent outbreak of novel Coronavirus is believed to have started at a seafood market selling illegal wildlife in Wuhan, a city in China. The market participated in illegal trade involving animals such as rabbits, snakes, bats and birds. Authorities are investigating and have suspicions that it may have started from bats. Coronaviruses are often passed to humans by animals, and initial reports stated that the disease was passed on to humans through snakes. This opinion was later retracted, and it is now believed that Novel Coronavirus originated in bats. A study conducted by Wuhan Institute for Virology found that Novel Coronavirus had a 96 per cent genetic similarity to Coronavirus in bats. The first victims of the disease were mostly workers at the market, therefore supporting this theory. It was then discovered that the disease was spreading between humans when several medical workers became sick after coming into contact with stall workers.
What is next?
As of now, the World Health Organisation has not declared the spread of Novel Coronavirus as an international public health emergency. This is due to the notion that although it is an epidemic in China, it has not had serious widespread consequences so far. This does not mean that this status will not change in the future, though. Concerns grow due to increased travel for Chinese Lunar New Year and authorities fear that the disease will be spread further. Whilst the city of Wuhan is currently in lockdown, the pathogen has already infiltrated other major cities.
Australian scientists are first to grow novel coronavirus in a lab outside of China
Whilst there is no cure for Novel Coronavirus, there is hope that a vaccine will be created in the future. In Australia, scientists have become among the first to be able to grow Coronavirus in a lab setting outside of China. The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity has grown the pathogen in Melbourne from a sample from an individual affected by the disease. This will assist research teams to be able to study the virus and develop a vaccine against it.
Australian laboratories will use the virus for an antibody test to detect the pathogen in individuals that are unaware they are infected with the virus as they have not shown any symptoms.
Additionally, the virus is set to be shipped internationally to European laboratories working with the World Health Organisation to be studied. Although Chinese scientists determined the genome sequence of this strain of Coronavirus, this development will assist in tests surrounding the pathogen. From this, trial vaccines can be created and tested to find a cure. Currently, standard methods for treating respiratory diseases are being used by hospitals to help patients.
Has Russia developed a vaccine?
Russia has appeared to have started developing a vaccine against Novel Coronavirus based upon the genome that was given by China. The Russian consulate has released information that they have so far been able to conduct tests that can recognise the virus within two hours of it being in the human system.
Whilst there is much anticipation for a vaccine in the future, there is still significant amounts of research, testing and trials that need to be conducted before any cure for the disease occurs. Only time will tell how significant Novel Coronavirus will be in the history of human disease epidemics. As the world braces for a potential international public health emergency, we can all only hope that the virus can be contained and that health authorities can find a way to cure this lethal disease as quickly as possible.