Should you be worried about the never-before-seen coronavirus outbreak?

| Written by Sumit Chanda, Ph.D.
Three-dimensional drawing of Coronaviruses

Here’s what Sumit Chanda, Ph.D., director of Sanford Burnham Prebys’ Immunity and Pathogenesis Program, has to say about the virus spreading fear around the world.

  1. What is coronavirus?
    Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses common in animals but can leap to humans, causing illnesses ranging from a common cold to severe respiratory diseases such as pneumonia, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
  2. What is the concern?
    Health experts are monitoring the outbreak first identified in Wuhan City (China), originating at a large seafood and animal market. It appears to be a new type of coronavirus that can be passed human-to-human, and it has caused more than 75,000 infections. New cases have been identified in 26 countries, including the United States. Thousands of people have died. 
  3. Isn't there a vaccine for the virus?
    Since this is a new coronavirus, there is no vaccine—and developing one can take several years.
  4. Should the rest of the world be worried?
    Given the pace of global travel in today’s world, it’s a reality that the virus is only a plane ride away. International airports, including some in the U.S., are screening passengers from Wuhan City and other Asian cities where the virus has been detected. It’s important to note that SARS and MERS, also coronaviruses, kill up to 30% of the people infected, although it's too early to know the lethality of the Wuhan coronavirus.

If you've traveled to the affected areas—or been in close contact with someone who has—and develop a fever accompanied by coughing, shortness of breath, and/or tightness of the chest, seek medical attention immediately, and do not travel into public spaces.