Founder and Director of the Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO), Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., is uniquely qualified to comment on the current COVID-19 outbreak caused by the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. A former physician turned research scientist, Giordano collaborates with scientists working in both the United States and Italy through projects with SHRO, Temple University, and the University of Siena, Italy, as well as other institutions around the world.
The following op-ed first appeared in La Voce di New York, an English- and Italian-language publication, and is translated and excerpted below.
By Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D.
Newswise — The disease caused by the new coronavirus has a name: “COVID-19,” where “CO” stands for crown, “VI” for virus, “D” for disease and “19” indicates the year in which it occurred. The most common symptoms include fever, cough, and breathing difficulties. Although symptoms are very similar to those of a seasonal flu, the viruses are different; therefore, in suspected cases of Coronavirus, laboratory tests are required to confirm the diagnosis.
A swab is made to collect mucus and saliva from the patient’s throat and identify the people who have contracted the pathogen and are therefore able to spread it. The search for antibodies is necessary to understand if you have already come into contact with the virus, and it is useful to conduct epidemiological studies to know, in retrospect, how many people have become infected.
The incubation period represents the period of time that passes between the infection and the development of clinical symptoms. It is currently estimated that it varies between 2 and 11 days, up to a maximum of 14. We must try to curb alarmism, but be aware of what is going on, and understand that the number of subjects found positive in Italy and in Europe will increase. This is inevitable for two reasons; the first is that we now know that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is very infectious and the mode of contagion occurs when those who already have the infection do not show obvious symptoms. Second, identifying the subjects who have come into contact with those who are already positive will have the inevitable consequence of finding others.
What can be said for sure is that these infections are more easily conveyed in closed rooms and by relatively close contacts less than 6 feet away. And, the incidence of death is higher among those over age sixty-five and subjects affected by other chronic pathologies, due to weaker immune systems and related vulnerabilities.
Misinformation, fake news and psychosis on coronavirus go hand in hand: among the many dubious theories prevelant on the internet is the suggestion that the virus was conceived as a biological weapon by China, or other versions that claim it was created in laboratories in the U.S.
Recent numbers indicate approximately 90,000 cases have been confirmed for the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) worldwide since the beginning of the epidemic, with approximately 3,000 deaths recorded. For comparison, as reported on the site of the World Health Organization (WHO), globally, every year, the flu virus affects between 5 and 15% of the adult population (i.e. from 350 million to 1 billion people), an incidence that rises to 20-30% in children.
Between 3 and 5 million cases of influenza reported annually evolve into complications that cause death in about 10%, (about 500 thousand people in the world), especially among the population groups at risk (children under 5 years, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases). In Italy, at the end of the 2018-2019 flu season, there had been 8,104,000 cases, and based on the most updated data, from 14 October 2019 to 16 February 2020 the number of flu-like cases was 5,632,000; with a daily average of 217 deaths, data published on the InfluNet website (the national epidemiological and virological surveillance system of influenza, coordinated by the Ministry of Health with the collaboration of the ISS).
At the moment, coronavirus, according to data from China, has an estimated mortality of around 3-4%. Mers, the “Middle Eastern” coronavirus epidemic, recorded 2,494 cases with 858 deaths, with a lethality rate of 34.4%. The best known SARS epidemic, over two years, recorded 8,096 cases with 774 deaths, with a lethality rate of 9.6%. The Ebola virus, whose ongoing epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still an international WHO public health emergency, has an estimated lethality rate of around 50%.
The statement that the new coronavirus epidemic is a global health emergency aims to raise awareness and improve international coordination; the concern, in fact, is also that which may spread the virus to countries with weak health systems.
Knowing the situation will allow us to develop increasingly effective measures. Without a doubt, each of us can, with our responsible behavior, act as a barrier to the spread of the virus.
About the Sbarro Health Research Organization
The Sbarro Health Research Organization (SHRO) is non-profit charity committed to funding excellence in basic genetic research to cure and diagnose cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and other chronic illnesses and to foster the training of young doctors in a spirit of professionalism and humanism. To learn more about the SHRO please visit www.shro.org