Certainly, the progression of the new coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak is worrisome. Yet, we must stay positive. After all, humanity has never been better prepared to deal with a pandemic.
Whether the COVID-19 outbreak is declared a pandemic or not, it is clear that the situation we are currently experiencing must be considered with the utmost seriousness. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus does not care whether it causes a pandemic: in less than two months it has propagated to several continents.
A disease reaches the pandemic level when it is transmitted sustainably, effectively, continuously and simultaneously within more than three different geographic regions. We may have already entered the pandemic phase regarding COVID-19. But it does not mean that we are sentenced to death: the fact that a virus causes a pandemic only reflects only its transmissibility and not his lethality.
There is no debating the seriousness of the situation we are facing. However, while it is important to monitor the development of this situation, it is also important to focus on positive information. Here are 10 comforting facts about COVID-19.
- We know what’s causing the disease.
Unlike AIDS, which took two years to identify the responsible virus: HIV, the first cases of severe pneumonia were reported in China on 31 December 2019 and by January 7, the virus responsible had already been identified. By the 10th day, its genome sequence was available.
We already know that it is a coronavirus belonging to the group 2B, in other words the same family as SARS, and we have called it: SARS-CoV-2. The disease it causes is also named Covid-19. This new virus is related to a bat coronavirus. Genetic analysis has confirmed its natural origin, and the fact that although of SARS-CoV-2 can mutate, its mutation frequency is not very high.
- We know how to screen for the COVID-19 virus.
As of 13 January, an RT-PCR test to detect the virus has been publicly made available. Over the last few months, these tests have been improved and got their sensitivity and specificity assessed.
- In China, the situation is improving.
The important control measures imposed by China are giving results. Indeed, the number of new diagnosed cases has been significantly decreasing over the last few weeks.
In other countries, detailed epidemiological monitoring is being carried out. In most countries, the outbreaks are in very limited areas, which makes it easier to contain them.
- Most cases are mild
According to a study carried on 45000 confirmed cases in China, 81% of the cases have no symptoms or are benign. In 14% of cases, the disease can lead to severe pneumonia and only in the remaining 5% it can become critical or potentially fatal.
- People are healing
Media sometimes tend to focus only on the new confirmed cases and deaths. Nevertheless, the majority of those who have been infected have recovered. In fact, there are over 13 times as many recoveries as deaths, and the ratio is rising.
- The coronavirus is easily inactivated.
The COVID-19 can be efficiently inactivated by cleaning contaminated surfaces for one minute with ethanol, hydrogen peroxide or sodium hypochlorite. Regular hand washing with soap and water is the most effective way to prevent transmission.
- Children are (nearly) not affected.
Only 3 per cent of cases involve people under the age of 20, and mortality among people under 40 is barely 0.2 per cent. Symptoms in children are so mild that they can go unnoticed.
- There are already more than 250 scientific papers on the new coronavirus.
Back in 2003, when SARS occurred, it took more than a year to get half the number of the 164 articles mentioning the terms Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 that have been referenced in the PubMed bibliographic database, the reference for biomedical sciences. These initial researches cover vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, genetics and phylogeny, diagnostics, clinical aspects of the COVID-19. They have been developed by about 700 authors from all over the world.
- Several clinical tests are already being performed on a dozen of antivirals.
In the short term, it is important to develop treatments to cure people who are already sick. In fact, more than 80 clinical trials assessing the effectiveness of coronavirus treatments are being conducted. We are talking about antivirals that have been used for other infections, are already approved and known to be safe.
Remdesivir is one of the antivirals already tested in humans. This wide-spectrum antiviral, which is still being studied, has been used against Ebola and the coronaviruses SARS and MERS. It is an adenosine analogue which once incorporated into the viral RNA chain, it inhibits its replication.
Chloroquine is another candidate. This antimalarial drug has also been shown to have potent antiviral activity. It is known to block viral infection by increasing the pH of the endosome which is necessary for the virus to fuse with the cell. This molecule has been shown to block the new coronavirus in vitro. Chloroquine is already being used in patients with coronavirus pneumonia.
What’s more, Lopinavir, Ritonavir and Baricitinib are all being tested on patients who have contracted the COVID-19.
- Prototype vaccines already exist.
Proposing a prototype vaccine is moving rapidly. Some groups that were working on vaccination projects against viruses similar to CoV-2-SARS have only had to redirect their research towards this new virus. However, development has been slowed by the need for tests to evaluate the toxicity or potential side effects of the vaccine candidates, as well as their safety, immunogenicity (ability to induce an immune response) and the effectiveness of the protection they provide. It may take several months or years to develop a commercially available vaccine, but prototypes are already being developed.