Fact Checking Information about the 2019 Coronavirus Outbreak

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What is coronavirus? 

A coronavirus is a common organism that causes an infection in the nose, sinus or upper throat. The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new coronavirus that has not been identified previously. 

2019 Novel Coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, is a new respiratory virus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, it can lead to organ failure or death. Since it is a viral disease, antibiotics are ineffective.

Source: World Health Organization

Claim: There are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Pakistan

Verdict: True

Special Advisor on Health to the Prime Minister Dr. Zaraf Abbas stated there are no confirmed cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus in Pakistan as of January 26, 2020. Airports in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar have started screening passengers who travelled from Wuhan for fevers and other symptoms associated with the disease. It is important to clarify that no lab in Pakistan is equipped to diagnose the virus for now. The National Institute for Health in Islamabad has sent two samples from Nishtar Hospital in Multan to Hong Kong. This means that it is currently not possible to categorically confirm of deny any suspected cases in Pakistan. 

According to Dr. Faisal Mahmood, an associate professor specializing in infectious diseases at the Aga Khan University Hospital, the ministry of health is working diligently to ensure that the 2019 Novel Coronavirus can be tested for in Pakistan. According to the ministry of health, the lab test will be available in Pakistan for preliminary testing in a week. Once it is verified that the lab tests are performing optimally, it will be operation for use on suspected cases. At Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi, samples from suspected cases are being saved until a test becomes available.

Soch reached out to the Ministry of Health, the National Institute of Health Islamabad, and Nishtar Hospital Multan for comment regarding the results of lab tests sent to Hong Kong, but we have yet to receive an answer. 

UPDATE: On 26 February 2020 the government confirmed Pakistan’s first two cases of 2019 Novel Coronavirus, now named COVID-19.

Claim: Coronavirus spread from animals to humans

Fact: Unclear

Other kinds of novel coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), identified in 2012 and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), identified in 2002, have spread from animals to humans as well as between humans.

2019 Novel Coronavirus is also likely a zoonotic viral disease, which means the first patients who were infected got the virus directly from animals. The real question is how efficiently such a virus can transfer from human to human. Efficiency in this context can be measured with the virus’s reproduction number, which denotes how many people can be infected by one patient. The World Health Organization estimates that the average patient of 2019 Novel Coronavirus will infect 1.4-2.5 patients, lower than SARS’s 2-5 reproduction number range.

Dr. Faisal Masood told Soch that at this stage it is difficult to conclusively ascertain the efficiency of transmission for this particular virus, given that we do not know key facts such as how easily it jumps from person to person, how quickly the symptoms appear, and how long it takes for patients to succumb to or recover from the illness. However, rather than panicking, it is important to focus on preventing the spread of the disease through preventative methods and screening at major airports.

Claim: Coronavirus began due to bat eating in Wuhan markets

Verdict: Unclear

According to viral news reports published across the internet, nCoV originated in Chinese seafood markets, due to the consumption of bats. We looked at the data and spoke to experts to understand the veracity of this viral claim. According to Dr. Faisal Masood, direct transfer from bats cannot be ruled out, but would not fit the pattern of other coronaviruses, such as MERS and SARS. Snakes are reported to be the intermediary species which the 2019 Novel Coronavirus spread to before humans by the Journal of Medical Virology, but this is disputed by some researchers given that viruses do not frequently jump between warm and cold blooded animals. Therefore, it is too early to say whether there is a direct link between the consumption of bats and 2019 Novel Coronavirus. 

Summary: According to the World Health Organization, “As of 24 January 2020, human-to-human transmission has been confirmed largely in Wuhan city, but also some other places in China and internationally. Not enough is known about the epidemiology of 2019-nCoV to draw definitive conclusions about the full clinical features of disease, the intensity of the human-to-human transmission, and the original source of the outbreak.”

This is a developing story that is being updated as the situation evolves.

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