Speaking with TRT World, Dr Onder Ergonul, a professor at Koc University’s School of Medicine, said the mortality rate of the new virus is nowhere near SARS or MERS, yet recommends caution.

Health officials in hazmat suits check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the airport in Beijing, China.
Health officials in hazmat suits check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, at the airport in Beijing, China. (Emily Wang / AP)

As the death toll from Wuhan coronavirus rises to 17, sparking panic worldwide, the previous outbreaks of contagious Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) suggest that the world may not witness a pandemic at the moment, according to Onder Ergonul, an Istanbul-based professor who specialises in infectious diseases.  

The Wuhan virus, called “2019 novel coronavirus” or “2019-nCoV”, has infected more than 500 people in China. It has now spread to other countries including Korea, Thailand, Japan and the US.

Dr Ergonul says a major coronavirus outbreak was first seen the form of SARS in 2003, which reportedly came from small mammals in China.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based in the United States, define coronaviruses as a large family of viruses with “some causing illness in people and others that circulate among animals.” According to the CDC, in rare cases, animal coronaviruses “can evolve and infect people and then spread between people”.

According to Dr Ergonul, who's also the Education and Communications Officer of The European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID), about 10,000 people were reported to be infected with the SARS virus in 2003, and about 10 percent of them died. “Therefore, it is 10 percent fatal,” he explains.

Dr Ergonul adds that MERS was another major coronavirus outbreak which occurred in 2012. The clinical information about this strand of virus is not definite. According to the US National Library of Medicine, it is unclear whether it came from animals. The mortality rate from MERS is 34.4 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

“Now we have the Wuhan pneumonia coronavirus,” Dr Ergonul says, reassuringly adding: “We are not expecting a pandemic at this moment.”

Yet, he points out: “There might be some more thousands of patients who will be infected.” 

He notes that the mortality rate is around three percent, with 17 deaths reported so far out of at least 509 cases.

Dr Ergonul notes that there is no vaccine or cure for “2019-nCoV” yet. If previous coronavirus cases are any indication, it may take pharmaceutical companies quite some time to come up with drugs to fight the virus.

So far the virus has spread as far as the United States, Dr Ergonul says, and it’s possible that there may be cases in Turkey if the country is not vigilant. He recommends screening international travellers. “Not everyone from China, perhaps, but especially from the city of Wuhan,” he explains.

Dr Ergonul says internationally travellers from Wuhan are being screened for fevers and quarantined if necessary in other countries, and that in Turkey’s case, Turkish Airlines should take precautions.

Turkey has prepared thermal cameras and other precautions against the spread of the new flu-like coronavirus, but currently has no cases or at-risk patients, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday.

The spread of the “novel (new) virus” has raised concerns about the safety of the global travel industry especially ahead of the Chinese holiday season. The Chinese New Year falls on January 25, 2020, and the festivities continue until February 8.

When SARS broke out in the 2000s, airlines and airports were hit as the scare of a spread kept travellers at bay. 

Source: TRT World