Japanese China Outbreak

As coronavirus outbreak spreads, missionaries and others are finding ways to help

By Martha Simmons

Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist

Coronavirus currently reigns supreme as the latest global health scare, but how worried should Americans be?

What is coronavirus?

Named for the crown-like spikes radiating from its surface, the coronavirus family causes numerous illnesses. But it’s the newest one — named the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) — that has worldwide health officials worried.

The virus appears to have originated in animals and jumped to humans. It is easily and rapidly spreading from human-to-human contact, often doing so without any noticeable symptoms.

The new respiratory virus was first identified in late 2019 in the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and a major transportation hub. Government officials in China are blamed for a slow response to the outbreak that contributed to weeks of unchecked infections.

By the time the government essentially quarantined tens of millions of people by shutting off travel to and from the epicenter — Wuhan and cities throughout eastern China — the illness had already begun spreading around the globe. To make matters worse, the virus hit right in the midst of Chinese New Year celebrations, a time when international tourism is at its peak.

As far as the global threat of the 2019-nCoV, analysis ranges from those who see the virus as a mounting plague of biblical proportions to those who believe news reports are merely headline-grabbing hysteria.

Symptoms of the illness

Symptoms of coronavirus do look a lot like the common cold or flu — fever, cough and shortness of breath — and in late January most medical professionals in the U.S. were advising people not to worry about contracting 2019-nCoV unless they had traveled to or come in contact with someone from the Wuhan area.

“For confirmed 2019-nCoV infections, reported illnesses have ranged from infected people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “CDC believes at this time that symptoms of 2019-nCoV may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 days.”

How the virus is spread

But concerns are mounting about the disease’s rapid spread and its unfamiliar nature.

While comparisons have been made with earlier pandemics, the CDC notes, “Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals. … The recently emerged 2019-nCoV is not the same as the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or the coronavirus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003.”

The SARS outbreak lasted about six months in 2002–2003, infected more than 8,000 people in 29 countries, and killed 774 — nearly 10% of all those infected — before it was contained. MERS, according to an article in “Scientific American” quoting Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is even more deadly and is still active, killing 858 people — or 30% of the 2,494 confirmed cases — in 27 countries since 2012.

It’s simply too early to predict whether 2019-nCoV will become as deadly as MERS and SARS, the CDC cautions.

“There are ongoing investigations to learn more. This is a rapidly evolving situation and information will be updated as it becomes available.”

The clock is ticking

Here’s how quickly the disease leaped from a localized animal virus to a worldwide concern:

Dec. 12 — First case of mystery virus identified in Wuhan, but Chinese authorities keep mum.

Dec. 31 — Unknown virus credited with causing 27 cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause.” Chinese health authorities finally make this public.

Jan. 1 — A seafood market in Wuhan is investigated as the possible origin of the outbreak.

Jan. 9 — First death in Wuhan attributed to 2019-nCoV.

Jan. 13 — Virus spreads outside China for first time.

Jan. 27 — Global stocks tumble on fears of the spread of the virus and China suspends trading in Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges. U.S. arranges to evacuate embassy personnel and other citizens from Wuhan. U.S. officials urge travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to China.

Jan. 29 – To date, 2019-nCoV has killed 132 people in China and sickened more than 6,100 worldwide, the great majority of those in China.

In a news conference Jan. 27, officials confirmed five U.S. cases of 2019-nCoV and said health officials are investigating 110 cases in 26 states. The CDC announced the installation of quarantine stations at 20 U.S. airports and land crossings to test passengers from Wuhan for the virus. CDC sought to reassure the public, saying that the disease isn’t currently spreading within the community and the risk to U.S. citizens is, for now, low.

The very next day, however, Chinese officials increased their worldwide estimates of new coronavirus cases by 60% more than previously acknowledged, and a reported shortage of test kits in China leads officials to suspect that even the adjusted numbers are grossly underreported.

In fact, infectious disease experts suspect the number of infected persons in China is likely to be much higher — 30,000 to 200,000 — and efforts to contain the disease in China won’t be successful. If those predictions come about, health officials fear the world’s medical care facilities — many of which are already reeling from a particularly difficult season of garden-variety flu — are going to be severely strained.

How you can help

Abraham Liu, a Chinese-born American citizen and founder of Bridge for Hope Ministry (b3ch.org/bridge-for-hope), is urging people of faith to help the Chinese people by meeting an urgent and pragmatic need: surgical masks.

In parts of China where the virus is currently concentrated, wearing surgical masks is not only wise, but mandatory. Fears of the spreading virus have caused a run on surgical masks in the U.S. — where they are not needed, except for medical professionals — while they are in short supply in China, Ground Zero for the outbreak.

“Right now, the biggest and most urgent need for millions and millions of Chinese people are masks,” Liu asserts. “The coronavirus is spreading so fast that people have no preparation at all. Most people get one simple mask and wear it for a week, (and) many people, many families don’t have one mask. And they have nowhere to buy masks. They feel desperate!”

Normal medical masks such as N95 respirators or surgical masks labeled 1860, 1870, or 9132  are all needed, Liu says.

Liu is raising money and collecting masks to send to churches throughout China. Additional funds will be used to purchase fever-reducing medicines and cover shipping charges.

And at least one U.S. city hopes to help as well. News outlets in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, are reporting that the city is preparing a care package to send to Wuhan, one of its sister cities.

Mayor Bill Peduto said the city would consult with media experts but speculated the care package would consist of medical items such as face masks and rubber gloves.

For more information Liu’s effort to send health supplies to China, go to www.facebook.com/abraham.liu.39.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is a developing story. Figures on the spread of the illness and the number of coronavirus-related deaths were verified by reports as of 11:00 a.m., Jan. 29. This story will be updated as needed.