Good evening all,
As I scan the science news each week, I very often encounter science news reports that are worth sending to you. Some of them are timely matches to our course content, some of them are just plain interesting, and still others are just too important to ignore. This one may fall into the last category.
There is an epidemic of the 'Wuhan coronovirus' in China. And, infected individuals are known to have traveled to a large number of places outside of China, such that infections are now being detected in other countries, including here in the U.S. Worldwide, many thousands are known to be infected, and the number of deaths attributed to this virus, while still low, is rising.
This is a new virus, not seen previously in humans. As viruses go, this one is not especially lethal. But, like may other viruses, it appears to be able to spread reasonable easily from person to person. And, persons infected with the virus can be asymptomatic (e.g., show no outward signs of illness) for some time, allowing them to come into contact with others before they are aware of the need to limit their exposure to others.
Is there a vaccine? No, it is not possible to create a vaccine to a new virus in such short time.
From where has this virus come? It has been suggested to have originated in reptiles (possible snakes), and then made the jump to human hosts. This is not completely novel, as other viruses which cause human disease (such as the HIV virus, or those causing 'swine flu' or 'avian flu') also originated in animals.
Why are humans at risk from these new viruses? Because we have no prior exposure, our medical community has no ready defenses (such as vaccines). Because this virus may be appearing in humans for the first time, our immune systems have not evolved any natural defenses, either.
Should you panic? In short, no. Many more people die because of the seasonal flu virus each year than are likely to suffer death from this one.
What should you do: Most importantly, pay attention to the news, stay informed, and be cognizant of anyone in your circle of interaction who may recently have traveled from an area in China experiencing an outbreak. Only if cases are detected in our community will specific calls to action be issued.
So, if the lethality of the virus is low, and the risk of infection is low, why should you care? It's worth paying attention because this is just the latest in a series of 'new' viruses that have emerged (most in the Asia or the Middle East, including SARS and MERS) that, while of relatively little consequence here, are severely problematic there. Imagine entire cities on lock-down, quarantine. Imagine all of the work, school, and travel that has been disrupted. And, remember, there is still much we do not know about this virus, of its origins, its ability to mutate, and spread.
Ask yourself: what if it happened here? Would our U.S. health agencies be ready and able to combat the emergence of a new virus? Many feel that the answer is 'no'... The best individual defense is information, and awareness - that is why I am sending this along today.
I will occasionally pass along articles of this type during the semester. My purpose in doing so is to help you to become more aware of current physiology and health topics, and also to help you assess how you obtain your science and health news.
Those of us working in science obtain our scientific news, quite often, directly from the original sources: the people conducting the studies and reporting the results. They publish their findings in science journals, or present them at conferences.
Most people do not obtain their science news directly, but hear news via secondary sources, such as news releases from scientific organizations, or as science news stories from the major news outlets. These secondary reports often are then carried by tertiary outlets (smaller/other reporting sources).
Along the way from source to audience, science news is normally distilled (a lot) - much of the detail is excluded or simplified, and the reports often are boiled-down to singular take-home messages, which may, or may not, be good representations of the original work.
When you browse the links that I will forward, or when you access science and health news on your own, I'd encourage you to delve a little bit deeper into them, to read more than just the summaries, and to follow links back to original sources when possible. I'd also encourage you to think a little about the translation of news from source to consumer, and the reputability of the news outlets that you use.
None of these news links that I send you will be represented on our course exams, but I do hope that the material in them makes its way into our physiology conversations. I'm sending this link to both my BIOL 240 lecture and lab sections, so my apologies if you receive this message twice.
This first link is from the New York Times, which provides one of the best (e.g., best funded and most reliable) secondary sources of science and health news. They do limit access to only a handful of free articles each month, so I will use them sparingly.
Have a great rest of the weekend -