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Researchers Study New Coronavirus

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) made its name in the public health sphere in 2003, spreading from Asia to Europe, North America and South America. The World Health Organization (WHO) received reports from more than two dozen countries that were affected by this particular coronavirus, with about 8,000 documented cases that resulted in 800 deaths. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that there have been no new cases of SARS reported since 2004. That doesn’t mean that the disease has been eradicated, just that it has been successfully contained to this point.

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While SARS has been relegated to the back of the world's social consciousness, a new disease is making its way into infamous prominence. The novel coronavirus has recently sprouted in the Middle East causing respiratory illnesses in 17 reported cases. Eleven of these have proven fatal, and two saw the individual develop a mild case of the illness and then fully recover according to the CDC. So far the cases have been reported from the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. There are currently no reported cases in the United States, and the WHO, CDC, and National Travel Health Network and Centre haven’t issued any travel warnings to or from places that have cases of the coronavirus.

An important question to ask is, “What is a coronavirus?” The disease was discovered in the 1960s, and is named for the crown-like spikes that can be seen on the surface of the virus. There are five strains, not including the novel coronavirus, which have been identified as being able to infect people: SARS-CoV, alpha coronaviruses 229E and NL63, and beta coronaviruses OC43 and HKU1. Most people have contracted a form of this virus, and it usually causes cold-like symptoms in the infected individual. Stronger strains of the virus are communicable to certain animals, such as dogs, cats, rodents and monkeys. These super strains can cause even more serious symptoms in humans, and may even lead to death in certain cases.

While the CDC states on their website that there are no vaccines or treatments for people who contract a coronavirus, researchers in the U.S have developed a model for infection based on how the novel coronavirus has affected rhesus macaque monkeys. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has studied how the coronavirus moves through the monkeys. They’ve noted that symptoms show up within the first 24 hours, and can include fever, cough, difficulty breathing and loss of appetite.

This research has also lead to the discovery that this new virus has a low communicability because of where it attaches itself in the body. The receptor that this particular coronavirus infects is the DPP4, which resides in the lower sections of the lungs. The virus latches onto this receptor, which can cause pneumonia. It may also inhibit the passing of the disease from human to human through sneezing or coughing. More research is needed in order to fully understand how the disease may be passed on, and whether it will become a scourge like SARS, or if the 17 reported cases will be the extent of the spread.

Properly conducted research, as evidenced by the discoveries spoken about above, is very important to global health care. Without it, diseases could go undiscovered, unrecognized and untreated. Speaking with ABC News, the chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Dr. William Schaffner, noted, "We're on the alert looking for this, and I think that's why these cases are now being discovered. People with puzzling pneumonia who we can't figure out what's going on right away are having specimens taken and sent to the reference lab for testing."

Without constant vigilance, as well as fully trained researchers and lab technicians to handle samples and conduct the necessary tests, diseases like this may quickly spread in an uncontrollable manner. The reverse may also be true, as without proper research, panic may set in for an illness that doesn’t have a high rate of contagion.

Epidemiologists and health educators are two professions that can positively affect global health care through innovative research. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), epidemiologists analyze collected data, plan and direct public health studies, and disseminate their information for use. Health educators can work as researchers in their institutions, also collecting and analyzing data in order to study changes in diseases and possible epidemics. Both of these careers are achievable through online degree programs and the BLS estimates both to have good growth rates from 2010 to 2020 (24 percent and 37 percent, respectively).

Health care professionals in these positions have the opportunity to save lives by analyzing new infectious diseases. They can also prevent undue panic by determining which diseases have the chance to spread quickly from those that are harder to transmit between individuals. New viruses may appear in the future, and having trained professionals who can understand how to study and treat those illnesses may prove vital to global public health care.

About the Author:

Jamar Ramos has been writing poetry and fiction for many years, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. For the last three years, Mr. Ramos switched to producing blog posts for CBSSports.com and writing professionally as an independent contributor for a number of Internet sites. His creative works have been featured in The Bohemian and The San Matean. He now contributes articles for OnlineDegrees.com, OnlineColleges.com, and AlliedHealthWorld.com.