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Science | History | Relationships and health

Virus toll rises as 14 are tested in Britain

Is this a global pandemic? In China, there are more than 830 confirmed cases and 25 deaths – with further reports from Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US. More than a dozen people in Britain have been tested for a deadly virusA very small piece of material that causes disease.  sweeping out of China. Five, so far, have been confirmed as negative, but the NHS is under orders to question everyone with flu-like symptoms in an attempt to stop spread of the virus. Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, has warned it is likely that cases of coronavirus will be seen in Britain as part of a "rapidly developing" global outbreak, in which more than 26 million people have been quarantined in what could be the largest disease-control operation in history. The World Health OrganisationThe United Nations agency responsible for global public health. said last night that cases in other countries were likely, as its experts were divided over whether to declare a global emergency. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, its director general, said that a quarter of those infected had become severely ill and most of the dead had underlying health problems. "We know that this virus can cause severe disease - and that it can kill - although for most people it causes milder symptoms," he said. "We don't know the source of this virus, we don't understand how easily it spreads and we don't fully understand its clinical features or severity." In China, the outbreak continued to spread rapidly, with the National Health Commission confirming 830 cases and 25 deaths. Authorities grounded flights, put up road blocks and closed railway stations to prevent residents leavingn WuhanA city in eastern China with a population of 11 million.. Restrictions were imposed on seven further cities. The virus, named 2019-CoV, is part of the wider family of coronaviruses, so named because they look as though they wear a crown of proteins. Two similar pathogensAn organism that causes disease to its host. have caused scares in the past: Sars and MersShort for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Another type of coronavirus, it is also known as camel flu.. Why are these viruses so dangerous? Firstly, they are new. This means that our bodies have not evolved to defend themselves from such infections. And though the new virus has already had its genome sequenced, it will take time to develop and test any potential vaccine. The pathogen's architecture is also to blame, coded by a single strand of RNAShort for ribonucleic acid. Unlike DNA, it only contains one strand.. Their genetic material has no backup copy, so any mutationsChanges to the structure of genes. are more likely to be reproduced. One animal's virus can quickly evolve into something that can spread across species. The world is more at risk of such viruses because of our increasingly dense population, our tendency to travel and our warmer planet, which allows viruses to survive in the air for longer. A decade ago, while researching a book on the next human pandemicAn outbreak of disease which occurs across a wide geographic area, as opposed to an epidemic, which is confined to a particular region., science writer David Quammen was told that the next deadly global disease would be a virus, with a single-strand of RNA that came from an animal in a live market in a Chinese city. That is exactly what the world is facing today. So, are we dealing with a global pandemic? Going viral No. It is nowhere near as devastating as it could be. The virus seems to mostly affect those over the age of 60, or those who were already unwell. We have also seen similar panics before, such as Ebola and Swine Flu. As frightening as those were, they never reached pandemic levels. Yes. Thousands more people are likely to be infected without yet knowing it. If we do not call the outbreak a pandemic, then we risk a much worse catastrophe. In the best case scenario, we will see this as a fire drill. So let's make sure we know where the exits are. It is always better to be safe than sorry. KeywordsVirus - A very small piece of material that causes disease.

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