Story at a glance

  • Officials say that we are in containment mode for the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Coronavirus could become a regular pathogen in the human population like flu.
  • But there isn’t enough evidence that it has achieved that yet.

In an interview with CNN on Feb. 13, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says, “Right now we're in an aggressive containment mode.” He continues to add that we don’t know a lot about the virus, but that “this virus is probably with us beyond this season, beyond this year, and I think eventually the virus will find a foothold and we will get community-based transmission."

What Redfield is talking about is the potential for the coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, becoming endemic in the human population. That would mean that it circulates naturally, like flu viruses, and it would be nearly impossible to completely eradicate it.

The disease caused by 2019-nCoV is being called COVID-19. Experts distinguish it because someone could be infected by the virus and not show any signs of disease. “What I've learned in the last two weeks is that the spectrum of this illness is much broader than was originally presented. There's much more asymptomatic illness,” says Redfield. In some of the confirmed cases, the person only had a sore throat, he adds.

For now, it seems that the virus has not completely become a regular pathogen — a virus that naturally circulates among us — in our populations yet.

“This virus will become a community virus at some point in time, this year or next year,” says Redfield. “We don't have any evidence that this coronavirus is really embedded in the community at this time, but with that said, we want to intensify our surveillance so that we're basing those conclusions based on data.”

Published on Feb 14, 2020