Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Coronavirus 101 with the SciSchmooze

from the desk of Meenakshi Prabhune

Hello Sci Schmoozers
Happy Palindrome 02022020! As we head into February, I have seen memes on social media about how long January 2020 felt, and although I didn’t realize it at first myself, it did ring true on afterthought. Perhaps it felt long because of all the things happening around us—in particular, the coronavirus scare.
You might have seen a lot of articles circulating around the coronavirus cases; some are useful, some not. So I thought it might be good to include some information around the same in today’s Schmooze because it is an important health concern after all! 
What is coronavirus
This is a family of viruses-few of the ones from this family that you may know of are MERS and SARS. Belonging to the same family means that these viruses are similar but not exactly the same, which makes it difficult to anticipate their behavior and subsequent danger. The one recently identified in Wuhan China is called Novel coronavirus because this particular strain was not known to us before.
As with the flu, the virus spreads when one inhales germy droplets (when someone sneezes for instance). Infected people may suffer from typical flu-like symptoms, including fever, cough, and runny nose. As with most viruses, the novel coronavirus can be asymptomatic in some individuals who can still be carriers of the pathogen.  
How much should I worry?
So far 27 countries have confirmed cases of this viral infection, but the maximum number of cases is still in China, where it originated. About 16,000 people have been infected so far, and around 350 have died from the infection. In the US, there are only 9 known cases so far. That is not a lot in themselves, plus anyone who has been in close touch with infected people is being screened and quarantined, so it is potentially a low-risk for now.
But remember, the chain of connection can make it spread much faster, so what we need is something in between total panic and casual disregard. You may have seen articles about how the flu kills lots of people each year as well, so yes, let’s not get paranoid. But at the same time, familiarity breeds confidence. The coronavirus situation is new and we are not really sure what we are dealing with here, so I definitely recommend exercising precaution. 
What can I do? 
In general, if you are not in contact with someone who has recently been in this province in China, you are at low risk of infection but it is always better to exercise caution. So here are a few general precautions to bear in mind (not particularly for coronavirus but against viral infections in general). 

  • Observe extra hygiene by washing hands with soap frequently. 
  • There is always a lot of pseudoscience out there (I recently read something claiming homeopathy as a way to prevent viral infection). So stay critical around what you read, as always.
  • If you feel sick, avoid contact with other people and seek medical attention.

I hope this PSA helped you better understand the facts amidst circulating rumors. You can find more information and latest updates on the CDC website.
Moving on to my pick of events in the upcoming week:

  1. Conversations at the Library: What Every Parent Should Know About Vaping, Monday, 02/03/20, 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM in San Mateo
  2. Buzzed Nightlife, Thursday, 02/06/20, 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM, San Francisco
  3. Science Events during SF Beer Week Feb 7-16, Friday, 02/07/20, 12:00 PM – 11:00 PM, Multiple locations

Have a great week ahead, and stay safe!
Meenakshi Prabhune a.k.a. Minu
Science Writer and Journalist

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