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UMKC professor discusses coronavirus outbreak


Abbey Higginbotham

Frank Burnside

Henry Gamber

The Chinese city of Wuhan was once bustling and full of life. Local markets and streets received hundreds of thousands of people daily. Taking a look at the streets currently, signs of life are almost nowhere to be found.

The 11 million people who inhabit the lively city—around the population of New York City—are now quarantined due to the epidemic of the puzzling and panic-inducing coronavirus. 

There are over 67,000 confirmed cases of the virus internationally, with a handful being reported in the United States, according to BNO News’ live viral data tracker. The virus is no longer contained in China, as travelers who have unknowingly contracted it bring it back home. 

But what makes the coronavirus any different or more concerning than other viruses?

Dr. Theodore White, dean of UMKC’s School of Biological and Chemical Studies, offered some insight.  

Corona is a group of viruses, White said, one that has been around for a very long time. Previous coronavirus epidemics SARS and MERS occurred in 2003 and 2012, respectively. 

“[These epidemics] were quickly extinguished. We used isolation procedures around the world,” White said. 

“All these coronaviruses are associated with wild animals,” White said, explaining how the disease can be transmitted through animal contact. “SARS was associated with civet cats, MERS was associated with camels.” The current outbreak is associated with the pangolin, an animal similar to an anteater. 

In light of recent racially-charged comments that have circulated online, it is worth noting that the coronavirus is not exclusively carried by Chinese or Asian people.

Coronavirus is spread through human transmission as well, traveling through the water droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes.

Coronaviruses can commonly sneak under the radar and appear as influenza. While there is a vaccine for influenza, there is currently no vaccine for the current outbreak of coronavirus.  

Diagnosing cases of coronavirus in humans has proven to be a challenge to doctors, however. According to White, the current test for the coronavirus is not always effective, which he finds very concerning.

White explained that the diagnostic test for coronavirus failed to accurately diagnose those who are known to have coronavirus. 

“If you test people you know have coronavirus, the test only tells you that they are positive about 50% of the time,” he said.

While it is a similar virus to SARS and MERS, coronavirus is more deadly. Recent reports say over 1,500 have been killed by the virus. All but four of the deaths have occurred in China, according to CNN. 

Coronavirus is most fatal to the elderly and to people who have pre-existing immune system conditions.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has set up guidelines to combat the virus, treating it in a similar way to influenza. The CDC estimates the flu has killed anywhere from 14,000 to 36,000 people in the last 16 months.

At the time of writing, there have been no reported cases of coronavirus in Missouri.

To prevent the spread of both influenza and the coronavirus, everyone should practice good hygiene. When sneezing and coughing, always cover your mouth with your elbow rather than a closed fist. Washing your hands often and avoiding drinking after others are also effective ways to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs and viruses.

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