Coronavirus vs SARS: How does the new outbreak differ?

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The novel coronavirus outbreak has alarmed health officials not only in China but around the world. The deadly virus has spread to over a dozen countries, and there have been more than 6,100 confirmed cases worldwide. At least 132 people have died in China so far, according to health officials. The coronavirus outbreak reminds us of the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003, which also originated in China. In this coronavirus vs SARS comparison, let’s check out how the new outbreak differs.

Though most of the cases of coronavirus are confined to China, the virus has spread to the United States, Thailand, Germany, Singapore, Hong Kong, Canada, Vietnam, and several other countries.

The first coronavirus patient was identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 31, 2019. Since then, there have been at least 6,100 confirmed cases. It has already surpassed the number of SARS cases in the world’s most populous country. According to the World Health Organization, it took SARS more than six months to surpass 5,000 cases. Between Nov.1, 2002 and July 31, 2003, there were 5,327 SARS cases in China and 8,000 worldwide.

Coronavirus vs SARS: Well, they are both coronaviruses

The virus that is currently causing panic in China and other countries belongs to the same family as SARS – the Coronavirus family. For the uninitiated, the Coronavirus is a huge family of viruses that infect animals, but can sometimes also spread to humans. They can cause cough, cold, fever, and breathing difficulties.

These viruses generally spread through the air. It means a cough, sneeze or handshake could transmit the virus. They can be transmitted by touching something touched by an infected person and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes without washing your hands.

The new coronavirus has temporarily been named “2019 novel coronavirus,” or “2019-nCoV.” According to scientists, 70% to 99% of 2019-nCoV’s proteins are identical to the SARS virus. While the novel coronavirus originated in China’s Wuhan city, SARS claimed its first patients in the Guangdong province of China. Fortunately, there have been no new cases of SARS in humans since 2003.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they originate in animals and sometimes spread to humans. Both SARS (Severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the novel coronavirus are said to have originated in China’s wet markets. The wet markets are where vendors, buyers, and live and dead animals are in close proximity, which increases the risk of such viruses jumping from live or dead animals to humans.

The SARS virus jumped from bats to masked palm civets before infecting humans. The first few patients of the 2019-nCoV virus were people who had visited the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan city. The entire city of Wuhan has been locked down now.

Health officials haven’t been able to determine from which animal the novel coronavirus jumped into humans. But experts believe it came from the Chinese cobra. Scientists who edit the Journal of Medical Virology told ScienceNews that the genetic makeup of the 2019-nCoV closely resembled that of snakes.

Coronavirus vs SARS: Symptoms

The novel coronavirus causes a similar set of symptoms as SARS. It could be fever, cough, breathing difficulties and more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Other possible symptoms are a runny nose (in rare cases), sore throat and headache. In more severe cases, the virus could also result in pneumonia and kidney failure. For those with a weak immune system, especially kids and the elderly, this new virus could result in a respiratory tract illness.

Where the 2019-nCoV differs from SARS is the incubation period. While SARS had a short incubation period of just 2-7 days, the new coronavirus could take up to 14 days to show symptoms.

Coronavirus vs SARS outbreak: Severity

We are living in a world different from 2002-2003. China’s rapid economic growth and its meteoric rise means the rest of the world is more connected with the country than before. It increases the chances of the new virus spreading more rapidly.

Former USFDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC that the new coronavirus is more contagious than SARS. It’s spreading more rapidly. The number of 2019-nCoV cases has doubled overnight in China. However, it’s not as virulent as SARS.

SARS was insanely deadly with a fatality rate of 9.6%. During 2002-2003, a total of 8,098 SARS cases were reported worldwide. It claimed the lives of 774 patients, according to WHO. The Wuhan coronavirus has killed 132 people in China as of Wednesday, January 29.

It’s too early to estimate the mortality rate of 2019-nCoV. According to WHO, its fatality rate is in the range of 3% to 4%. More cases are still being reported and infected patients are still being treated, so these are only the initial estimates.

Most people who have died due to the Wuhan coronavirus had underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, or they were elderly. The underlying health issues had already weakened their immune systems.

Even though it’s not as severe as SARS, the fact that the new coronavirus is highly contagious makes it more deadly. If 100,000 get infected, it would claim 4,000 lives with 4% mortality rate.

Is there a treatment?

There is no treatment available for the Wuhan coronavirus yet. Also, there is no vaccine for SARS. Treatment for those who do contract the virus is focused on relieving the symptoms it causes. In severe cases, treatment also includes supporting vital organ functions, according to the CDC.

The best thing you can do right now is to avoid contracting it. Prevention methods include washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Other precautionary measures include avoiding touching your mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands.

The antiviral medications that had shown promise in treating SARS and MERS are being tested for 2019-nCoV. A number of companies including Novavax, Novartis, Inovio, and Moderna are working on preliminary vaccines. Swiss pharma giant Novartis believes it will take 9-12 months to find a new vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus.

The World Health Organization has not declared it a global public health emergency yet.

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