Medical expert discusses possible origins of deadly new virus

As the United States declared a public health emergency and issued a ‘do not travel’ advisory to China because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, we take a closer look at how this virus can seemingly come out of nowhere and spread so rapidly.

The death toll has climbed to at least 213 people with nearly 10,000 confirmed cases, with six in the U.S.

Dr. Selim Suner, professor of emergency medicine at Brown University and director of disaster medicine and emergency preparedness at Rhode Island Hospital said that these kinds of things happen all the time.

What it comes down to is whether a particular virus can infect the human body.

“This happens all the time. Viruses mutate frequently,” Suner said.

In fact, coronaviruses are very common, but the novel coronavirus has mutated in such a way that it found a happy home inside the human body.

“You probably had coronavirus infection I’ve certainly had an infection. When you get a cold that can be one of many viruses,” he said. “The coronaviruses that typically infect humans are not dangerous viruses. They don’t cause severe illness.”

But at times they can be deadly. This coronavirus is not the first one to cause global panic.

“SARS, for example, was also a coronavirus. Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, MERS, is also a coronavirus,” Suner said.

For now, experts are still trying to figure out how exactly the virus spreads, bur Dr. Suner said the novel coronavirus is thriving.

“It’s natural selection. A mutation that’s favorable for the virus,” he said. “That virus survives in that environment and this virus seems to be very happy doing that right now.”

As for the origin of the novel coronavirus, researchers are following the evidence to a possible suspect.

“The current thinking is that this novel coronavirus that we see in China originated in bats,” Suner said.

Dr. Suner said doctors in China have been able to break down the entire genome of the novel coronavirus which could lead to a speedy way to find a vaccine.


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