Simply six months in the past, the World Well being Group received a troubling report from Chinese language well being officers. A thriller pneumonia had sickened dozens of individuals in Wuhan. That virus, which had crossed from an unknown animal host to people, has now upended lives worldwide with head-spinning velocity.

Though virologists had lengthy warned of the pandemic potential of some coronaviruses circulating in bats in China, the virus launched a shock-and-awe assault that researchers and public well being employees are nonetheless scrambling to grasp and management (SN: 11/30/17). That assault has upset every little thing from day-to-day life to complete economies, and turned the routine — going to highschool, popping right into a restaurant, hanging out with buddies — dangerous. The world at this time is a far totally different place than when the primary stories of an odd pneumonia in Wuhan, China, made the information.

Now nations have begun to reopen, with fingers crossed that they’ve a deal with on the virus, referred to as SARS-CoV-2. Many are rapidly studying that they will’t let down their guard. Officers in Beijing, as an example, reinstated a restricted lockdown June 13 within the space round Xinfandi market in response to a cluster of COVID-19 circumstances. And after New Zealand eradicated the virus and lifted restrictions on June 8, officers confirmed two new circumstances on June 15 in contaminated vacationers from the UK.

Different nations by no means received their outbreaks beneath sufficient management within the first place. As an example, whereas the rise in COVID-19 circumstances in elements of the US has ebbed, the variety of infections in different places largely spared within the spring, together with Texas, Florida and Arizona, is now spiking.

With unprecedented efforts to check the virus and its impacts, scientists have realized a unprecedented quantity in a very brief time period and overturned some early assumptions. At first, public well being officers made suggestions on how the virus would possibly behave and the way greatest to guard oneself from it based mostly on previous experiences with two of the pathogen’s shut family members — extreme acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or SARS-CoV, and Center Jap respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV. However a few of these preliminary assumptions turned out to be improper, and there’s nonetheless a lot that researchers want to determine. 

What a distinction six months makes

Here’s a have a look at how scientists’ understanding of the virus has advanced within the six months since its discovery. 

Then

Within the first days of the pandemic, Chinese language officers reported that the brand new coronavirus doesn’t simply transmit from individual to individual. 


Then

Coronaviruses like SARS and MERS are likely to infect deep within the lungs, so the brand new coronavirus might be unfold primarily by individuals with signs, similar to a cough, or throughout such medical procedures as being intubated.

Now

Along with lung cells, SARS-CoV-2 also can infect cells within the nostril, which can clarify how individuals can transmit it to others earlier than feeling sick. Speaking or respiratory could also be sufficient to unfold the virus.


Then

The earliest indicators of sickness embody fever, shortness of breath or cough, the U.S. Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention listed in January.

Now

A wider vary of signs, together with fatigue, diarrhea and physique aches, can recommend an individual has COVID-19. One of many clearest indicators could also be lack of scent and style.


Then

Older individuals above age 65 are at highest danger for creating extreme illness.

Now

Age continues to be a danger issue for extreme signs, however underlying situations like hypertension, weight problems and diabetes additionally enhance danger. Racial disparities have additionally come to gentle. In the US, Black, Indigenous and Hispanic individuals are getting contaminated or dying at greater charges than white individuals.


Then

Youngsters are largely spared from the illness.

Now

That is nonetheless true relative to different age teams, although researchers aren’t certain why. However low danger doesn’t imply no danger. Some kids can develop a harmful inflammatory situation linked to COVID-19.


Now

With social distancing and phone tracing, many locations, together with China, South Korea and New Zealand, have introduced the an infection fee from two to a few right down to under one. However in sure areas, together with India, Latin America and elements of the US, individuals should still be passing the virus on to a couple of different individual. And with out stringent public well being measures in place, massive gatherings have led to clusters of infections.


Then

Of people that take a look at optimistic for the virus, round Four % die. 

Now

Loss of life charges differ resulting from partially to variations in testing amongst nations. (For instance, if solely individuals with extreme illness get examined that may inflate the case fatality fee.) Pinpointing a worldwide fee received’t be clear till the tip of the pandemic. However antibody testing has allowed scientists to estimate that the an infection fatality fee — a measure that features individuals who weren’t examined, maybe as a result of that they had gentle or no signs — could also be round 0.6 % in some locations.


Then

Solely sick individuals ought to put on masks, in accordance with steerage from WHO and the CDC.

Now

With knowledge displaying asymptomatic individuals can unfold the virus, each companies now suggest that each one individuals put on masks in public. The effectiveness of material masks was in query early on, however research now recommend that these masks might help curb transmission of the virus — if most individuals put on them.


Then

There aren’t any remedies for contaminated individuals and no vaccines to curb the virus’ unfold. 

Now

After a speedy push to check present medicine in opposition to the brand new coronavirus, some have proven promise, whereas others fell out of the working. Remdesivir could velocity restoration in sick sufferers. Dexamethasone could scale back the chance of dying. The malaria medicine hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have proven no profit for contaminated individuals. Greater than 150 coronavirus vaccines are in improvement, with 20 in scientific trials in individuals. 


So what don’t we all know but?

Six months is an extremely brief time to have realized as a lot as researchers have a couple of new virus. However there’s nonetheless a lot to study. Some questions merely take time to reply. 

For instance, it’s nonetheless unclear why the brand new virus is a lot extra contagious than its SARS and MERS family members — every of which have contaminated fewer than 10,000 individuals. It’s additionally unknown how usually asymptomatic individuals unfold the virus (SN: 6/9/20).

Some scientists proceed to probe how the virus will get out and in of cells and what sorts of cells it may possibly infect, from lung cells to these within the gut. Others are on the hunt for what animal the virus jumped into individuals from, which might help scientists perceive how the virus made the soar and information insurance policies to watch these animals for associated coronaviruses.

When it comes to the illness itself, researchers nonetheless don’t know what number of virus particles an individual should be uncovered to in an effort to get sick, or why some individuals turn out to be severely ailing and others don’t. Some sufferers — even these with milder signs — should still have long-term well being issues after they recuperate (SN: 4/27/20). And though individuals who recuperate seem to make antibodies that defend in opposition to a reinfection with the virus, solely time will inform how lengthy that immune safety would possibly final. Solutions to those and different questions are essential to these planning the way to safely reopen companies and colleges.

One factor scientists do know is that the coronavirus isn’t going away any time quickly, if ever. It’s going to take herd immunity, when no less than two-thirds of a inhabitants has immunity in opposition to the virus both as a result of they’ve been contaminated or there’s a vaccine, to lastly start to curb the pandemic. Each of these goalposts are nonetheless far off for now, although some have mentioned there might be a vaccine by the tip of the yr. As we head into the following six months, researchers will continue learning new issues concerning the virus as rapidly as doable. And so the dash turns into a marathon.

Tina Hesman Saey contributed to this story.

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