(GENEVA, SWITZERLAND)— The World Health Organization has just declared coronavirus a public health emergency, CNN reports. The WHO classified the disease as dangerous for its potential to spread globally. Out of 8,200 people, more than 170 have died so far.
Coronavirus is a category of viruses that are actually very common. Most cause infection in the nose, sinuses, or throat, much like rhinovirus, which is the most common cause of a cold. However, a few of the most notable and dangerous outbreaks in the past decade have been quite serious: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and SARS among them. Like MERS and SARS, the current Wuhan coronavirus likely jumped from animals to humans.
Compared MERS and SARS, the current coronavirus is faster-spreading a less lethal (so far). Despite widespread panic, so far the death rate has been 2.1% for infected individuals, versus a 9.6% death rate for individuals who contract SARS, and a staggering 35% fatality rate for those infected with MERS. The youngest victim so far has been 36, and he was the only of the younger victims who did not have some comorbidity weakening their immune system. 99% of cases are still in China, though it seems that the fast-spreading disease is easily transmissible.
However, this likely won’t stop Americans from panicking. New Yorkers, and other urban residents who rely on densely packed, mass transit systems to get around the city, often find themselves especially worried when contagion breaks out. Unfortunately, although face masks have been selling out in New York, the ones you can find in a pharmacy aren’t likely to help you. Especially not the reusable kind, which is more likely to incubate pathogens rather than defend you from them. The best advice is still what applies to preventing any common illness: wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. And cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze (and avoid those who don’t).
While there have been six cases in the US so far, hundreds more Chinese Americans have observed an unrepentant uptick in racist remarks and behavior. The more immediate threat at the moment is an upsurge in stigmatization and racism against Chinese communities outside of China.
The WHO’s concern over coronavirus need not necessarily reflect the actual risk that the virus poses to the majority of individuals. The disease poses the greatest threat to those in poorer countries. Most organization’s concerned early responses stem from a sense of urgency to contain a disease’s spread while it’s still in its early stages, or else accept that it could join the ranks of common human diseases, with risks to the elderly, the infirm, and the very poor. A vaccine will not be available for another year, at the best.