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Last updateWed, 19 Feb 2020 2pm

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Coronavirus Continues to Spread Around the Globe

CoronavirusCoronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from a minor cold to complex, deadly diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV), according to The World Health Organization (WHO).

A new respiratory virus within the Coronavirus family, referred to as the Novel Coronavirus, has recently been first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. The new coronavirus has surpassed 20,000 cases in China and a death toll of 425, The Guardian reported on Monday, Feb 3.

Since its identification, the Novel Coronavirus has been recorded in a multitude of other countries. An infographic by John Hopkins University displays 15 cases in North America as of Monday, Feb 3.

Jeffrey H. Weisburg, Ph.D., a Specialist Professor in the department of biology who’s currently teaching the class Microbiology in Health and Disease, addressed the worries of what may happen if the Novel Coronavirus were to appear on campus.

“What you have to realize is that people on the Monmouth campus, even if [a coronavirus] came, it probably would not be deadly because we’re healthy and have an intact immune system,” Weisburg said. “The concern is that it can develop into pneumonia and that can kill you; that’s the problem. It’s the effects of it that can cause other diseases or other problems with your body. It can cause heart problems which lead to heart attacks and you die.”

Weisburg explained how only those who were very young or very old were most likely to face a deadly round of the disease. “If you are a normal, healthy person, the likelihood of this becoming a fatal disease is quite low. If they have another major infection, however, then that’s an issue.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s prevention and treatment recommendations are to wash your hands with soap, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands, and avoid close contact with those who are sick.

Megan V. Phifer-Rixey, Ph.D, an Assistant Professor who’s currently teaching Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology, agrees with the CDC’s advice to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Hand-washing is always good advice, as is covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing,” Phifer-Rixey said. “Avoiding contact with people who have the virus is also advised, but as of this moment, there are no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in New Jersey or nearby states. Travel to China and particularly to Wuhan, where the virus was first detected and where there are many cases, is restricted.”

The CDC lists symptoms of the novel coronavirus as consistent with that of influenza, which raises concerns over when someone suffering from a fever, cough, and shortness of breath should begin to take their condition more seriously.

“[Some] people are going to ignore it and say it’s just a common cold,” Weisburg said. “I think if more people are aware of the situation and that there’s a possibility of having the coronavirus, I think they would go to their doctor."

“A lot of viruses and bacterial infections have the same symptoms because the symptoms you get are caused by your own immune system trying to fight the infection, not the infection having a direct effect on your body.”

Vaccines often take a long time to develop, and according to the CDC, it can take weeks to months to develop and distribute.

Cathryn L. Kubera, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor who has regularly taught Introduction to Cell and Molecular Biology and completed research as an undergraduate in a lab which studied influenza, detailed how common it is for lengthy vaccine development times to take place.

“Vaccine development does unfortunately take an extended period of time,” Kubera said. “Any therapy that’s developed needs to undergo these rigorous processes of being screened for safety and ethics. Forget about the research that goes into it, and actually figuring out what’s going to work, but getting the pharmaceutical companies to be able to scale it up the amounts that they need takes a lot of time too. The facilities for production are very specialized.“

Phifer-Rixey is wary of information regarding coronaviruses, and encourages each student to be skeptical regarding the source of their information.

“The best way to stay informed is to check with sources like the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control,” Phifer-Rixey said. “There are also some researchers who study viruses, viral evolution, and epidemiology that have weighed in with expert advice on social media platforms, like Twitter, to balance out some of the sensational claims that have been made.”

Social media users should be especially critical about the source of the information they are reading, Phifer-Rixey said. “Carefully consider their credentials and the data they have. Check to see if other outlets are reporting the same information.”

Katelyn Meyer, a junior year science in marine and environmental policy and biology student, recalled reading misinformation about the novel coronavirus on social media.

“I definitely read some things that were later proven not to be true,” Meyer said. “Some people were uploading videos to Twitter of unconscious people in the [China] streets and were saying that was due to the virus, but then I read on a fact-checking site that wasn’t true. I’m not sure what people gain from lying about something so important. I assume they didn’t mean to.”

Weisburg admits he has not heard anything too out of the ordinary regarding misinformation on the coronavirus, but instead raised issues with the speed of the information itself.

“I actually think it took a little too long to make it a global emergency,” Weisburg said. “I don’t think people are taking it seriously enough, because this could be a disaster.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth University

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