Editorial 10.1


The Crowned Virus

Dr. Sherko A Omer *

By the end of December 2019, several acute lower respiratory viral infections from Wuhan city, Hubei province, China were reported. Reports filed when a virus like a coronavirus emerged as the cause of infection and it took weeks for its identity to be confirmed after isolation and studying its nucleic acid. The virus described belongs to Coronaviridae family which are enveloped, positive-sense, single-stranded RNA viruses. 

Coronaviruses (CoVs) are widespread among mammals and birds, affecting many organ systems and causing a range of diseases. Common human coronaviruses such as 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 are responsible for common cold, upper respiratory tract infection, and sometimes lower respiratory tract infections in all age groups. Coronavirus was also known as a human pathogen and emerged in 2002-2003 as a new agent that caused severe acute respiratory distress, and for that, it was named SARS-CoV (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Years later and in 2012, another role from the virus appeared as a new emerging agent, MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), when reports blamed camels as the source of the new killer virus. The new Wuhan virus genome showed the closest relationship with the bat SARS-like coronavirus strain (BatCov RaTG13) and it re-emerged as a new health threat to our small earth, the world in the globalization era. Changes in human activity, travel, and lifestyle made the whole world a small country and this fuelled the rapid spread of this highly contagious virus. As this virus was finally named (SARS-CoV-2), and the infection as COVID-19, it removed its mask and day by day new features become clear as a highly contagious virus, with an incubation period of two weeks (or more). It’s transmitted mainly by droplets from cough or sneezing and enters through the airways, mouth, conjunctiva, or by still unknown other methods and may be infecting animals too.

What rang the alarm very loud was the ears and eyes of the internet age. With up to the minute and real-time news and reports, including the ever-growing social media the news about COVID-19 becomes global. Since it was announced by China and after three months, the infection spread in all directions and now around 160 countries are reporting infections and the confirmed infection numbers can't be fixed at any given time by WHO, and the figures increase madly every day.

The initial mortalities were estimated to be 2% but new figures changed to around 4% or more as in Italy. Adding to this, some countries are still not transparent about their actual infection and mortality. By mid-March 2020, this tiny yet active virus infected more than 142,000 persons and claimed more than 5500 lives and continues to. Apart from human causality, the virus targeted trade, tourism, industry, human activities, and the modern lifestyle. Sports, entertainment, and major gathering were canceled, day by day and country after country. We witnessed global effects so oil prices plunged and it took down stocks; sanitizers, face masks, and food started to become scarce in some affected cities.

The mighty 21st-century world response came in various forms, denial, keeping silent, and later announcing the problem. For these, the old Quarantine system was applied to risky human groups, and it was extended into cities and regions where millions were on lockdown. Schools were closed, air travel was restricted, borders were closed, some people were forced to work from home, and major events and crowds were canceled. Besides, these and using personal protection, the virus still has the upper hand. This outbreak, or epidemic, or rather pandemic (only to be declared by WHO on March 11th, 2020) will continue, and the world response is always steps behind. We witnessed a drop in the problem in China, but elsewhere the infection is soaring and it’s not clear when the pandemic will stop. As an emerging novel virus, the herd immunity is not expected to play a role for now. Vaccine trials, although started but it will not be ready soon.

For now, isolation, protection and early virus detection may only be our defense against this new enemy and it is not clear when we hear reassuring news, but it may take several months for that and many lives will be lost. Countries must be more open and urgent in their actions. Humanity as a whole must be favored over politics, economy, or the lifestyle we have accustomed to in the last two decades.

Lessons should be learned. Scenarios such as we are witnessing now must be proposed and shelved for future problems. The world is not free from Ebola and other unexpected agents. 

Note: By the time this editorial was published on 20/3/2020, 10.30 Am, data from Johns Hopkins coronavirus map reported: Total confirmed cases 244,523; Total deaths 10,031; Total recovered 86,031.





* Dr. Sherko A Omer

Department of Microbiology, College of Medicine, University of Sulaimani, Kurdistan Region, Iraq.

Editorial Secretary, JSMC