The new coronavirus -- Covid-19, that first emerged in Wuhan, China is quickly spreading around the world.
South Korea, Iran, and Italy have seen a sharp increase in the number of cases over the past week. In South Korea, 5,238 people have been infected by the virus.
In Italy, 107 people have died over the past two weeks, even though the total number of cases is half that of South Korea. Italian authorities have shut down schools and companies until March 15 and the areas most infected are put under quarantine.
With more than 78 countries on six continents (except Antarctica) reporting cases, should Covid-19 be declared a pandemic? The World Health Organization (WHO) does not think so. Let's find out why.
Epidemic vs. Pandemic
Health officials classify virus outbreaks into three levels -- endemic, epidemic, or pandemic, depending on the number of people affected among other factors.
A disease is called endemic if it is contained within a certain geographical region. It may exist permanently but the number of people infected yearly tends to stabilize. Malaria is an example of an endemic disease carried by mosquitoes and prevalent in tropical regions.
An epidemic is an outbreak where the infection is not expected in that population and spreads through the communities. The coronavirus is an epidemic as it had already spread flu-like symptoms throughout populations in China at a drastic rate.
If the outbreak becomes a pandemic, the infection has spread across multiple countries, and governments struggle to find a treatment for the disease. The H1N1 virus in 2009-2010 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. This is because it spread quickly to 20% of the world population, and according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) led to nearly 12,500 deaths in the U.S.
While the coronavirus has not been declared as a pandemic as yet, the WHO is carefully monitoring the situation.
What Are Countries Doing?
Countries around the world are taking steps such as quarantining infected people to prevent the disease from spreading. Public places and theme parks have been closed because they bring together large crowds of people within a small area.
Many countries have sealed their borders with the strongly infected countries, especially China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. Flights have been canceled and conferences have been moved online to virtual meetings. Technology companies have limited business travel and are asking their employees to work from home and universities are bringing back their students from study-abroad programs.
Citizens are being advised to take common-sense measures such as washing hands or using sanitizers, avoiding physical contact including shaking hands, and only traveling if it is absolutely essential.
While the situation is currently limited in the U.S, the coronavirus is approaching pandemic status. Wash your hands, and stay healthy!
Sources: CNN, Vox, Mayo Clinic, Washington Post, CDC