The “Wuhan Virus” and Human Progress

Believe it or not, the saga of the “Wuhan coronavirus” demonstrates a considerable amount of human progress since the days that diseases would claims tens of millions of lives (which wasn’t that long ago).

First, it was identified and determined to be a new strain of the coronavirus family at record speed. (Coronaviruses are best known for causing the “common cold”.) Just one week after it was discovered, Chinese authorities had already sequenced the virus and shared it with labs around the world; an Australian lab did the same not long after, allowing the whole world to pool its resources together to learn more about this pneumonia-like virus and develop a possible treatment.

“Something that’s remarkable here is that within a week, the RNA sequences of the virus are available on the internet, and many can look at it and begin to understand it,” Richard Martinello, an associate professor of infectious disease at the Yale School of Medicine, told Business Insider. “That’s something that’s never been done before.”

Second, since the discovery of coronaviruses around 60 years ago, medical technology has come a very long way, advancing to the point that we can conduct far more in-depth research into the way these viruses work. For example, while it was known that coronavirus could infect humans, the SARS outbreak marked the first time a coronavirus was traced back to animals. We will likely learn a lot from this experience as well.

And that leads to my third point: Thanks to the advent of institutions like the U.N. World Health Organization, there is unprecedented cooperation, monitoring, and exchanging of data and resources across the world. Just as diseases do not adhere to borders, so too are we humans learning the value of cooperating and coordinating to prevent or contain these pandemics.

To that end, Americans are presently far more likely to catch the seasonal flu than the Wuhan coronavirus. Plus, the preventative measures for both are the same: wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face, and keep away from anyone who is sick.

None of this is to promote complacency, but to prevent unwarranted or possibly counterproductive panic.