Superbugs, Viruses and Phages

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March 10, 2020
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March 10, 2020

Superbugs, Viruses and Phages

In January 2020, a new coronavirus named 2019-nCoV (also known as novel coronavirus or Wuhan coronavirus) spread rapidly throughout China.

In January 2020, a new coronavirus named 2019-nCoV (also known as novel coronavirus or Wuhan coronavirus) spread rapidly throughout China.

As of February 6, there were 28,256 cases in China alone, and 3,800 were critical according to World Health Organization data. The death toll from the virus had surpassed 560. Thousands of people were quarantined on cruise ships outside of Yokohama, Japan after 10 passengers were diagnosed.

The U.S. and Australia temporarily barred foreigners who’d recently visited China from entering their countries, companies like Apple and Starbucks closed their stores, and airlines including Delta and British Airways cancelled flights.

As of this report’s printing, we didn’t yet know what caused the virus or how it was spreading. It joined a host of superbugs already rampant elsewhere in low-income countries.

Researchers will be testing phages—specially programmed viruses that can target a bacteria that causes illness without harming us—in the coming year. That’s good news for countries where the overuse of antibiotics has led to medicine-resistant superbugs. A

s for the coronavirus, the outbreak will be top of mind throughout 2020, as governments explore how they can more easily collaborate to contend with global health emergencies.

Months before the outbreak, researchers at Johns Hopkins ran a simulation of a hypothetical, treatment-resistant coronavirus outbreak spawned at a pig farm in Brazil.

Unlike the 2019-nCoV, this one was extremely lethal, and in the simulation 65 million people died in just 18 months. Despite these massive hypothetical risks, most governments underspend on emerging disease research.