Origin of the Wuhan Coronavirus Under Investigation


While the number of infected individuals in China now exceeds 60,000 with over 1,000 fatalities, scientists continue to investigate the source of the infective agent termed COVID-19 formerly 2019-nCoV. Based on sequencing, it was concluded that an animal reservoir, possibly a snake, was the reservoir of the virus.


Epidemiologic data implicated the Hunan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan with early cases identified in late December leading to the closure of the facility on January 1st 2020. Recently The Lancet published a report that the index case may have been identified on December 1st and that the individual had no connection to the seafood market.


There is no question that the SARS outbreak, also caused by a coronavirus in 2003, was initially a zoonosis with bats serving as a reservoir transmitting the infection to palm civets that are consumed as a delicacy in China and are sold in wet markets. It is possible that a complex host interaction has led to the emergence of the Wuhan coronavirus that may by now be transmissible among humans following mutation.


The Washington Times reported on a conspiracy theory that the virus escaped from a presumed Wuhan national biosafety laboratory. A mildly pathogenic coronavirus, hardly more deadly in its effect than influenza, would most certainly not be a candidate for a biological weapon and without obvious substantiation, the theory is soundly rejected.


The actual incidence rate of Wuhan coronavirus in China is, in all probability, underestimated. On February 12th authorities in Hubei Province with a population of 59 million changed the definition of the disease to include clinically affected cases not confirmed by antigen detection. This led to a surge in reported cases but not necessarily an increase in actual incidence. Dr. Scott Gottleib former Administrator of the FDA noted in a CNBC interview on February 3rd that scarcity of testing reagents and kits is probably limiting confirmation of a diagnosis to the most seriously affected patients showing atypical pneumonia. It is also presumed that most of the fatalities occur in the elderly or those with predisposing conditions. Notwithstanding this reality the mortality rate , depending on divisor, is apparently far higher in Wuhan than other areas of China or in Japan and Korea


The real impact of Wuhan Coronavirus infection lies in the economic disruption associated with quarantine of 16 metropolitan areas involving over 50 million people concurrent with and subsequent to the Lunar New Year. Disruption of international travel and breakdown of supply chains will most certainly reduce the GNP of China and will surely spill over to other nations in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.


Economists are basing predictions on the 2003 outbreak of SARS, a condition which was less infective but more virulent than the Wuhan Coronavirus. Commentator Dr. Steve Liesman a contributing economist for CNBC noted that in 2020 China is a more important global force than it was in 2003 and the disruption of trade and supply chains will reduce GNP in China by as much as two percent and will have knock-on effects on China’s trading partners.