A yr in the past, I wrote an article for The Dialog a couple of mysterious outbreak of pneumonia within the Chinese language metropolis of Wuhan, which transpired to be the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. On the time of writing, little or no was identified concerning the illness and the virus inflicting it, however I warned of the priority round rising coronaviruses, citing Sars, Mers and others as vital examples.
Since then – and every single day since– we proceed to study a lot about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, discovering new methods to manage the pandemic and undoubtedly hold us safer within the a long time that may comply with. Here’s what we’ve got discovered since final January and what we nonetheless must study.
Initially, the illness that we now name COVID-19 was described by way of a lung irritation, or pneumonia, in older individuals. However we now know that SARS-CoV-2 an infection can lead to a variety of signs in individuals of all ages, spanning from no signs in any respect to systemic irritation and loss of life. After which there are the lingering signs that many endure from – so-called “lengthy COVID”. We’re additionally starting to tease aside the totally different phases of the illness, the harm precipitated to organs (corresponding to the guts and mind), and the position of co-infections with micro organism and fungi.
In January 2020, there was restricted proof of human-to-human transmission. If there was, it was considered much like its cousin virus SARS-CoV-1, which causes Sars, in that an infection spreads comparatively late within the illness, when signs are at their peak. But early research confirmed that unfold between individuals was extremely environment friendly for SARS-CoV-2, and that it might occur quick and earlier than the worst of the signs started. This made it laborious to manage with out delicate and particular exams utilizing the now-famous PCR check. Social distancing, hygiene and masks would assist restrict the unfold alongside isolation and quarantine.
At first, there have been no remedies or vaccines towards COVID-19, other than assist in hospital, corresponding to offering oxygen when sufferers had issue respiratory or antibiotics after they catch a secondary bacterial an infection. Within the months after January, researchers quickly examined new therapies towards COVID-19, figuring out dexamethasone, and have developed many secure and extremely efficient vaccines towards COVID-19 that at the moment are in use.
Though we’re studying each day about COVID-19, a number of vital scientific questions stay that may form the way forward for SARS-CoV-2, and humanity, for many years. The primary is how will SARS-CoV-2 evolve, adapt and alter over the following yr within the face of pure or acquired immunity by way of vaccination?
A second, much less tutorial level can be whether or not that is vital. Our remedies and public well being measures will nonetheless work, however what about our vaccines? We proceed to trace, predict and perceive SARS-CoV-2 evolution close to vaccine “escape”, and all our accessible proof suggests it’s minimal at finest and that our present vaccine platforms are sturdy sufficient to face up to any modifications if wanted. We should additionally stay alert to the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 establishing itself in one other species, corresponding to mink.
Then there’s the query of how SARS-CoV-2 will work together with the opposite viruses that flow into in people. The human respiratory tract is dwelling to a number of viruses that flow into collectively – usually in a single individual. These viruses promote or impede the an infection of different viruses. We now know that because of social distancing, the unfold of most of our respiratory viruses, corresponding to influenza and RSV, has been severely restricted. How will they “react” when mitigation measures, corresponding to social distancing, finish?
Lastly, we should establish the origin of SARS-CoV-2 to forestall the continued spill-over of SARS-CoV-2-like (or certainly different pathogenic coronaviruses) into people. We all know that SARS-CoV-2 in all probability emerged lately in south-east Asia and that in the end the virus was in a horseshoe bat. However the organic and ecological steps it took to achieve people stay obscure. Fixing this puzzle will assist safeguard our well being for many years to come back, in the identical approach as has been achieved for swine and avian flu infections.
As I stated in my article a yr in the past, these epidemics “are a continuing reminder of the necessity to put money into analysis into rising virus biology and evolution, and in the end to establish secure and efficient medicine to deal with – or vaccines to forestall – severe illness”. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that science and scientists can and can ship outcomes, given the best monetary and societal assist. How then we are going to apply the teachings of COVID-19 to different severe issues, corresponding to rising infections, antimicrobial resistance and local weather change?
Connor Bamford receives funding from Wellcome Belief, UKRI and SFI/DfE.