Coronavirus: Cruise ships in quarantine, symptoms, epidemic vs pandemic, vaccine research

One of the aspects of the coronavirus epidemic that has been latched onto by the Press is the fact that thousands of people are stranded aboard two quarantined cruise ships. As a cruise enthusiast, that piqued my interest.

Diamond Princess.

Diamond Princess.

There are 3,711 passengers and crew on Diamond Princess anchored off the coast of Yokohama, near Tokyo, Japan. Another 1,800 are being kept on World Dream, docked at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.

Earlier, some 6,000 were prevented from disembarking the Costa Smeralda in the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, from the evening of Wednesday, January 29, until late the next day. They were allowed to leave the ship after Italy’s health ministry announced that tests showed that a woman suspected of having coronavirus was negative.

The woman from China, 54, was isolated with her partner. She was running a fever and had flu-like symptoms.

Talking of symptoms, confirmed cases have ranged from people with little to no symptoms to people being severely ill and dying. Symptoms are said to include:
• Fever
• Cough
• Shortness of breath

[Hmm, they look remarkably like some of the symptoms of the illness I picked up while cruising the Mexican Riviera aboard Carnival Miracle in December. As if having MS (Multiple Sclerosis) isn’t enough, but I digress.]

America’s CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) believes that symptoms may appear in as few as 2 days or as long as 14 after exposure. What’s more, anyone with the disease is already infectious before symptoms appear.

And that, of course, makes the job of containing the spread of the disease, let alone its eradication, much more difficult.

Not a pandemic, yet – official

It may be of interest to note that this disease is still an epidemic and has not yet reached the level of a pandemic.

The WHO (World Health Organization) stated, earlier this week, that coronavirus is a “global health emergency”. It continued that it is “an epidemic with multiple locations” but NOT yet a pandemic.

epidemic pandemicWhat is a pandemic as opposed to an epidemic? According website “Epidemic is a term that is often broadly used to describe any problem that has grown out of control. Medically speaking, an epidemic is defined as ‘a widespread occurrence of a disease in a community at a particular time’.

“Key to this definition is the word ’occurrence’. An epidemic is an event in which a disease is actively spreading. In contrast, the term pandemic relates to geographic spread and is used to describe a disease that affects a whole country or the entire world.”¹

As far as eradication and prevention are concerned, researchers are working to produce a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus. They believe they may have taken significant steps towards finding an effective method of immunisation.

At least three pharmaceutical companies, as well as teams of researchers around the world are striving to develop an effective vaccine. Their work was given a boost when Chinese academics publicly posted the genetic sequence for the virus.

The Guardian, a UK newspaper, reported that a research team at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Maryland, USA, said “they had prepared a modified version of a key section of the virus to encourage the body to produce antibodies against the disease.”²

We live in hope.

¹, quoting the following sources:
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Past Pandemics. Atlanta, Georgia; updated August 10, 2018.
• Hartfield, M. and Alizon, S. Introducing the Outbreak Threshold in Epidemiology.PLoS Pathog. 2013;9(6):e1003277. DOI:10.1371/journal.ppat.1003277.
• U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). (2017) Pandemic Influenza Plan: 2017 Update. Washington, D.C.: DHHS.
• World Health Organization. (2009) Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response: A WHO Guidance Document. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.
²Researchers make strides in race to create coronavirus vaccine, the Guardian, February 1, 2020.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. More recently, he was a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.


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