Story at a glance

  • The country’s top infectious disease doctor says the coronavirus is “almost certainly going to be a pandemic.”
  • The virus has killed at least 361 people in China and infected more than 17,000 worldwide.
  • A pandemic is described as ongoing epidemics on two or more continents.

As the deadly Wuhan coronavirus outbreak spreads in China and other areas around the world, some health experts worry the virus appears increasingly likely to become a pandemic.

A pandemic, which is when epidemics break out on two or more continents, is looking more probable as the coronavirus has killed at least 361 people in China and infected more than 17,000 worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported there are now 146 cases in at least 23 countries outside China, including the U.S., where a total of 11 cases have been confirmed.

“It’s very, very transmissible, and it almost certainly is going to be a pandemic,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told The New York Times. “But will it be catastrophic? I don’t know.” 

Fauci noted that the number of cases have “steeply inclined with every day.” 

As three more U.S. cases of coronavirus were reported in California on Sunday, the Associated Press reported that a couple in San Benito County was the second instance of person-to-person transmission in the U.S. But there is still much uncertainty among scientists about how much damage a pandemic would cause.

“If we take strong measures now, we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the United States,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a media briefing Friday.

“We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic, but we are hopeful still that this is not and will not be the case,” Messonnier said.

In a matter of weeks, the number of Wuhan coronavirus deaths in mainland China has surpassed the 2003 SARS epidemic in the country. Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in December, more than 360 people have died, compared to the 349 deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) over a nine-month period.

The World Health Organization last week declared the coronavirus an international public health emergency, and the U.S. began to bar entry to any foreigners who have recently traveled to China. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to the Hubei province of China, where the virus originated, will be asked to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.

Published on Feb 03, 2020