KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou addresses fears and concerns about coronavirus

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With the new coronavirus spreading worldwide there is growing concern, and in some cases fear. But what do we really need to know here in Minnesota? KSTP Medical Expert Dr. Archelle Georgiou offered her perspective in a question-and-answer below.

Q: Why is the new coronavirus spreading so quickly?

A: "Well there’s a few reasons, but one key reason why coronavirus is spreading so quickly is it’s a new, novel virus. So what does that mean? It means that humans have never seen this version of this virus before, so our immune systems can’t respond and we don’t have antibodies. So all of us are new to this virus and it takes the body about two weeks to develop antibodies."

Q: What purpose do precautions being taken at borders and airports around the world serve?

A: "Because nobody has been exposed before, they want to keep as many people as possible form getting sick. We don’t really understand how dangerous this coronavirus is. Currently, the mortality rate, the death rate, is about 2%. Compare that to the mortality rate for influenza A, which is about .13 percent, it’s significantly lower. And so for a virus that can be so lethal we want to make sure we don’t continue having it spread."

Q: Where does coronavirus come from?

A: "Viruses exist in the environment and there are other types of coronaviruses we have been exposed to. One of them is the virus that causes the common cold, SARS and MERS. So viruses mutate and become new forms of an old virus. And so we believe that it’s a new form and that it’s completely new and novel to the human system."

Q: Has something like this happened before?

A: "Absolutely. And so, viruses are quite smart. And they can change the envelope that’s on the outside, they can change their composition, and so if the human body doesn’t recognize it, it’s like a new foreign body.

"The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has created a website to track the coronavirus around the world.

"And they’re tracking if people have been infected, if they’ve died, if they’ve recovered. And so it really gives you a view of where this virus is, how it’s spreading and you can see that it’s quite concentrated around Wuhan and then, you know that’s where the greatest concentration of cases is, but it is spreading across the world."

Q: How does this health crisis play out in the weeks, months or years ahead?

A: "The real answer is we don’t know because we don’t understand everything we need to understand about this virus. We believe, based on modeling out of the United States, that the number of cases will not peak until April or May. So that suggests we’re going to see many more cases and if it continues to have a mortality rate of 2% we could see a lot more deaths until that time. Hopefully, what will happen is that the number of cases will decrease, we will develop some level of immunity, it will give us time to create an antibody or a vaccine and so we won’t be faced with this risk in the future."

Q: How does the coronavirus compare to other viruses?

A: "Well, let’s look at it from this perspective. How infectious is coronavirus? So if somebody has coronavirus, we believe one person can infect two to three others. Influenza, on the other hand, a person who has influenza will infect between one and two others. So influenza is less infectious than coronavirus. On the other end of the spectrum, measles virus will infect 15 to 18 people. So it’s more transmissible than influenza but it’s nothing like measles. I think that may calm some people down about how infectious this virus may be."

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