contagion

The Wuhan coronavirus is the latest on an increasing list of biological threats to humans. Having some relation to SARS and MERS, 2019 nCoV as it is called, is prompting responses from governments and agencies around the world. NPR has an interesting take on the complete travel ban that now is in effect in Wuhan (and other surrounding cities). Essentially the reasoning is that trying to do a quarantine on 11 million people can have the opposite effect – rather than stopping the disease, you’re creating distrust in the population and moving people to hide symptoms rather than get treatment. Some of the ebola responses in African have shown this dynamic, and the last thing you want when trying to deal with a possible global public health issue is a populace that doesn’t trust the government.

The virus is interesting to me on a scientific level, given the apparent recombination of bat and snake viral genomes that then gained the ability to cross to humans as hosts. Beyond the genetics and biochemistry, there are myriad policy implications, starting from the market that is viewed as ground zero (selling live and processed wild animals) and moving through the health care, transportation, and logistics systems (e.g. food and medical supply shortages in Wuhan).

The World Health Organization has stopped short of naming this as a worldwide emergency – time will tell if that stance changes. One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of panic fanned by conspiracy theories and scientifically flawed “news” passed around.

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