Editor’s Focus: Breaking down the outbreak

The Wuhan coronavirus is something to be concerned about, but like every outbreak we need to keep things in perspective

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So, you might have heard of this little thing called the Wuhan coronavirus—I know it isn’t being covered much in the news, but it’s possible you might have heard something about it. Maybe just a little. Or more likely a ton. And possibly much of it misinformation and panicky hype.
In all seriousness, this isn’t a story that’s flying under the radar; instead, it’s crashing right into us at high velocity. My 14-year-old daughter asked me very recently, “Am I going to die from the coronavirus?” and rarely have I ever been so glad to be a longtime career healthcare-medical-pharma journalist as I put some of the media and internet hyperbole into perspective for her. Certainly perspective is needed for some people, given that apparently there is a contingent of folks out there who think the virus is spread via the Corona brand of beer.
I’m not saying this is an infectious outbreak that should be taken lightly. Quite the opposite—I appreciate a vigorous response to public health risks. It’s just that so far, influenza (the flu also being a coronavirus, by the way) remains the bigger health risk.
Still, there are concerns. This particular coronavirus—technically known as 2019-nCoV right now, and also known as the Wuhan coronavirus because of the Chinese city in which it originated in December—should be taken seriously. The number of confirmed cases in China and 23 other countries has risen to at least 14,380, according to data from the World Health Organization, surpassing the number in the 2002-2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). But let’s remember that we survived SARS, which so far seems to lead to a higher percentage of deaths than the Wuhan virus. Also, as of Feb. 1, Chinese officials had reported 304 deaths from the Wuhan virus, compared to thousands already from the more common flu in the United States alone since influenza season started.
But while perspective is good, wariness doesn’t hurt either, and this is shaping up to be a pandemic. Everyone should be doing what they can, from people doing their best not to spread infections by washing their hands and covering up when they cough or sneeze, all the way to life-sciences folks rushing to create vaccines and diagnostics.
And in that vein, we have a commentary in this issue talking about what’s being done and lessons that can be learned for the drug discovery world (and other life-sciences professionals) from this virus, and we have devoted the entire “Late-breaking News” section this issue to recent news related to the Wuhan coronavirus and pertinent to you, our readers—while we don’t usually upload that section of the issue to the magazine, we did this time, and you can view all the stories here including a few that didn’t make it into the print issue.

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