Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Recent news that pertains to human and animal medicine is the novel strain of a coronavirus, similar to SARS, that people have dubbed the Wuhan Coronavirus. The reason I wanted to post about it, is that my husband was talking about the conspiracy theory of the government making diseases to wipe out people - mainly he was concerned that the virus must be really bad in order to require both the medication used to treat influenza and HIV/AIDS. The thing is, coronavirus is not a new virus, and it is an enveloped virus. The envelop of the virus actually makes it more vulnerable, and more easily controlled. The WHO still does not know which animal reservoir this coronavirus mutated from in order to infect humans. They believe that bats to civet cats to humans was the method of transfer for SARS. Thus far, elderly and people with underlying disease conditions have passed away with this novel strain.
Virology was a difficult topic for me in school. Viruses are very different than bacteria. The treatment for viruses is actually management of the clinical signs and reduction in the spread, in some cases there are anti-viral medications - used to help reduce the viral replication in the host (again, my husband thinks that Big Pharma is to blame). We use vaccinations to protect dogs and cats from some of these viruses, though coronavirus in Canada is not a core vaccine for dogs or cats. Strangely in cats, they can get coronavirus and never get sick, but then some viruses in some cats mutate and cause Feline Infectious Peritonitis - which is a very sad disease with grave prognosis that affects young animals.
The One Health Initiative is following this news. By the time you read this, new things will have been posted, however, One Health is an explanation of how human health, animal health and the health of our environment are intertwined and that we as veterinarians should be working with human health practitioners in global solutions.
Viruses will mutate through replication, increasing or decreasing their virulence - the measure we use to say how bad a virus is. Mutation is random, and there are ways that viruses persist. Viruses that are less virulent (less ability to kill the host quickly), will actually spread MORE. How that works is that, if death occurs quickly and the host does not meet a new host where the virus can jump to, then the spread of the virus stops there. This is why this virus spreads - the incubation period for this coronavirus is estimated to be about 14 days, (time from infection to when they show illness) which is why people in the Diamond Princess are being forced to stay off the coast of Japan for 14 days. People are wondering why they are only testing a few people - those with fevers, or those who were in contact with the initial case. There is likely an unknown prepatent period at this time (the time from contact or infection of the virus, to the time it can be tested in a sample) and if the medical authorities tested everyone, there is a high chance of false negative tests. Chances are however, that along with SARS and MERS, the disease will become contained. People just panic, or is it the media that perpetuates this panic.
I was talking about this with another veterinarian. How pig farming in Canada is a very closed system. The reason for this is that pigs are highly susceptible to diseases that can mutate through humans, and they are housed in such close proximity that if the disease got into the barn, it would harm all of the stock. People working in these farms have a shower in and shower out policy. We learnt in virology about open systems, where there is less disease control. Bats and other animals could move through the barn, and that this was a source of transmission of these diseases. Similarly, the population in certain cities are denser. Humans are in such close proximity with one another that this allows for diseases to spread. Then there is always the question of proper sanitation and personal hygiene. I'm sure in the coming days we'll see more news about this coronavirus... and I am sure in the coming years that there will be new viruses coming our way - and not just those developed by the government.