Rarely does a disease spread fast enough and is labeled dangerous enough that it quickly gets the attention of the World Health Organization. A coronavirus, which has killed several people in China and has spread to other Asian countries, qualifies. If the disease moves to nations outside Asia and the death toll rises, it could become an international health emergency. Among the issues at stake is that it could affect populations around the world and curtail travel.
The coronavirus causes deadly pneumonia. It is found in both humans and animals. While it can cause colds, it may be best known for causing the SARS epidemic of 2002.
The WHO will meet on Wednesday to decide whether to put its considerable resources against the spread of the virus, which has already moved to Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
Among the worries about the virus is that it has no cure. The other is that it can spread very rapidly. The last is that it is very deadly, though not, apparently, as deadly as SARS. It is not hard to imagine that the disease could spread across Asia and beyond.
The National Center for Biotechnology said in a report about the SARS epidemic of 2002:
The SARS epidemic was not simply a public health problem. Indeed, it caused the most severe socio-political crisis for the Chinese leadership since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown. Outbreak of the disease fueled fears among economists that China’s economy was headed for a serious downturn.
An extremely serious outbreak of the new disease could have consequences similar to 2002. That is why the incident has gotten so much coverage and poses such a considerable threat.