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Coronavirus in context: 'We're already living with a number of pandemics'

5 February 2020 6:51 PM
Tags:
China
WHO
Pandemic
Novel Coronavirus
World Health Organizaion
Sonia Shah
The key is the balance between how quickly it spreads and how virulent it is says Sonia Shah, author of a book tracking pandemics.

No-one can be called an expert yet on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) - it's still too new.

The number of deaths in China is nearing the 500 mark, with the number of confirmed cases topping 24,600.

RELATED: Under quarantine in Wuhan: 'I haven't left my apartment in six days'

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency, but will it still grow into a global pandemic?

On the Afternoon Drive show, John Maytham gets some context from American science writer Sonia Shah.

The books she's authored include Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, from Cholera to Ebola and Beyond.

RELATED: Chinese community in SA faces racial stereotypes amid coronavirus outbreak

Shah points out that we're living with a number of pandemics unfolding around us in the world right now, and have done so in the past.

The "China virus" outbreak is causing consternation she says, because it is brand-new.

As of yet it doesn't have anywhere near the toll of many of the other pandemics that we are currently living with.

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

We have an annual influenza pandemic for instance that kills upwards of 500,000 people every year... We have a pandemic of cholera going on right now... We have the ongoing pandemic of HIV...

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

She notes that the death rate might not be that high comparatively speaking, but the novel coronavirus does seem to spread faster than some of what could be considered "deadlier" pandemics.

Yes, 2% is not a very high death toll compared to, say, Sars which is more like 10% or the Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS] which is also caused by a coronavirus, which is more like 30%.

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

That really is the question. Where is that balance between how quickly it's going to spread and how virulent it is?

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

There are probably a lot of cases we are not seeing because if people don't have a certain profile, they may not be being screened for this particular virus.

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

We know that 5 million people left the area of Wuhan before the city was closed down, so there are a lot of people who have probably been exposed or have already dispersed around China and elsewhere. Wuhan is a place that gets about two-and-a-half million overseas visitors every year so I think it's quite possible that this virus is a lot more disseminated than we currently know.

Sonia Shah, Science journalist and author

Hear more from Shah in the audio below:


5 February 2020 6:51 PM
Tags:
China
WHO
Pandemic
Novel Coronavirus
World Health Organizaion
Sonia Shah

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