There remain many unanswered questions about the origins of the new coronavirus and what can be done to stop it, according to Mark Jackwood, a professor and infectious disease expert at the University of Georgia, who studies coronaviruses in bird populations.
Below, he shares some of his thoughts on the current outbreak, how people can protect themselves and what the future may hold for the coronavirus known as 2019-nCoV.
Are certain populations more susceptible/at risk for complications?
“Like many diseases, the old, the very young and immune compromised individuals are more at risk. Health care workers are also more a risk because of their work-related associations with sick people.”
What precautions should people take to limit exposure?
“Washing your hands is probably one of the most important things you can do. Also staying away from large groups of people as well as people that are sick will limit exposure. There is no vaccine or cure. Treatment usually involves treating the symptoms until the disease runs its course.”
Are you concerned that this could turn into a new pandemic?
“Yes. Coronaviruses are very good at changing rapidly and adapting to their host. Now that it is in people and appears to be spreading from person to person, it could easily become more adapted to people with the result that it will be more contagious and more virulent. It will be extremely important to monitor and quarantine infected individuals or it could get out of hand very quickly.
“One big question yet to be answered definitively is the origin of this new virus. This goes back to your question about limiting exposure. It appears it originated from animals in the market place in Wuhan, China. But the specific animal has yet to be identified. In the case of SARS, the virus originated from a bat, which passed to the palm civet and raccoon dog as intermediate hosts before infecting humans. It can be complicated to sort out.”