Worrying Times

The virus which appears to have migrated from China to Italy is truly alarming. The TV footage from Wuhan, Milan and Lombardy is horrific and terrifying. Could this happen here? For years we’ve been expecting a pandemic yet no government seems at all prepared. Everyone has been caught off guard.

Dr Li Wenliang, the ophthalmologist who tried to raise the alarm about the coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak, died of the infection last week. He was a member of the eyecare profession, which makes it all a bit harder and closer to home.

As ever when I’m anxious and things feel uncertain I look for facts. I’m pretty sure I use facts like the superstitious among us use rabbit feet, horseshoes and garlic. Facts are my way of protecting myself. If I know the facts I feel (completely unjustifiably) safer. So here is my fact file so far:

The mystery virus has a name now. Viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). The name is based on their genetic structure which is meant to help in the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Yesterday the ICTV announced the name of the virus as ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)’. The name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the 2003 SARS outbreak.

What many people don’t realise is that a virus and the disease often have different names and are actually named by different organisations. Diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). This is because WHO’s role is human disease preparedness and response so diseases are named in order that discussions can take place about disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment . This disease has been named COVID-19.

I have no idea whether this will affect my clinical placement though this seems an entirely petty and selfish concern under current cirumstances.

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