*The following text is only a preview of our new eBook “Genetic Analysis of the COVID-19 Virus and Other Pathogens”. Request a free copy to access the full version.*
At the end of 2019, a virus appeared somewhere in the Chinese city of Wuhan. It caused cold and flu-like symptoms in most, but also pneumonia and death in a few. It proved to be highly contagious. The disease it caused would soon be coined COVID-19, standing for coronavirus disease of 2019. It quickly emerged as a global phenomenon mobilizing resources in every country to defeat it.
At the time of this writing, we are in the midst of a global pandemic. COVID-19 has arrived in many countries: Asia, Europe, and Latin-America. There are cases reported in Australia, the Middle East, Africa, and Canada. The United States was hit especially hard, trying to contain the exponential spread in a country that is based on individual freedom and liberty. As the country is adopting, based on federal and state guidance, social distancing, we are facing the reality that the reported case numbers are climbing undeterred (see Fig. 1).
Fig 1: COVID-19 infections in the US
As I am writing this sentence, there have been 159,184 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and the death toll stands at 2,953 here in the US. This will obviously be out of date by the time you are reading this paragraph. We are dealing with exponentially growing numbers. There are estimations for the US, that put the number of infections in the tens of millions and the number of deaths in the hundreds of thousands. The Johns Hopkins University has developed a website, the Coronavirus Resource Center, that gives up-to-date information on this pandemic with updated information multiple times a day.
There are other informative resources, that help to quantify the spread of the virus. Dr. Edward Parker, from the Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is maintaining a website that allows you to visualize current trends with his COVID-19 tracker (see Fig. 2).
Fig 2: Cumulative (log10) cases in Germany, Italy, Mainland China, Republic of Korea, Spain, UK, and the US
In addition, the website gives information about other recent outbreaks, such as the epidemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
The virus behind COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. It is a pathogen that has unique characteristics turning it into a threat to our lives and the global economy. According to Fang et al. (2020), the preliminary estimate of R0, which indicates the expected number of cases directly produced by one person in a population susceptible to infection, for COVID-19 is 2.2 – 3.7 (see also Qun Li et al., 2020). It could be shown that it is able to persist for days on uncleaned surfaces.
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