A new virus is raising concerns. According to a newly published study, the novel coronavirus virus (NCoV), a potentially deadly virus that has captured the attention of international health officials, could be more adept at infecting humans.
According to one of the first published studies of NCoV, the virus may have evolved to better attack humans and evade immune system responses. Researchers at the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in St. Gallen, who announced the findings Tuesday, say HCoV, along with the common cold virus, are similar in terms of host responses. The immune system fails to identify the virus, leading it continue to adapt to its host.
The virus, part of the same family as the common cold and SARS, has reportedly struck upwards of twelve individuals over the course of the past month, according to health officials. The individuals reside in various areas around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Kingdom. Health officials say five patients have died from the virus.
The virus has captured the attention of World Health Organization (WHO) officials; it was listed as a new virus by the WHO last year. It remains unclear how the virus came to be, but some health expert suspect it was carried by animals transported from country to country. The virus was largely unknown to exist in humans until it emerged in the Middle East late last year. Following confirmation of the first infection by the novel coronavirus, WHO – working under the International Health Regulations – immediately alerted various governments and health authorities in order to halt the spread of the virus.
The virus, which holds the ability to penetrate the lining of the passageway in the lungs, could evade the immune system, similar to common cold. Doctors say the virus’s ability to evade the immune system means it is extremely effective for infecting humans, raising concerns of a global pandemic. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes those that cause the common cold as well as the one that caused SARS. That disease emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it had infected worldwide.
Speaking Tuesday, health officials said the latest case is concerning. Officials noted that it remains unclear if this the latest case of NCoV is an aonomally, or the beginning of an epidemic.
“We don’t know whether the cases are the tip of the iceberg, or whether many more people are infected without showing severe symptoms,” said Volker Thiel of the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in Switzerland, who led the study examining the effects of the virus. “We don’t have enough cases to have a full picture of the variety of symptoms.”