A yr in the past, I wrote an article for The Conversation 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 essential examples.
Since then – and day-after-day since – we proceed to study a lot about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, discovering new methods to regulate the pandemic and undoubtedly maintain us safer within the a long time that may observe.
Here’s what we now have realized since final January and what we nonetheless must study.
Initially, the illness that we now name COVID-19 was described when it comes to a lung irritation, or pneumonia, in older folks. However we now know that SARS-CoV-2 an infection can lead to a variety of signs in folks of all ages, spanning from no signs in any respect to systemic irritation and dying.
After which there are the lingering signs that many undergo from – so-called “long COVID“. We’re additionally starting to tease aside the totally different phases of the illness, the injury prompted to organs (such because the heart and brain), 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 studies confirmed that unfold between folks was extremely environment friendly for SARS-CoV-2, and that it may occur quick and earlier than the worst of the signs started. This made it onerous to regulate with out delicate and particular checks utilizing the now-famous PCR test.
Social distancing, hygiene and masks would assist restrict the unfold alongside isolation and quarantine.
At first, there have been no remedies or vaccines in opposition to COVID-19, aside from assist in hospital, akin to offering oxygen when sufferers had problem respiratory or antibiotics after they catch a secondary bacterial an infection.
Within the months after January, researchers quickly examined new therapies in opposition to COVID-19, figuring out dexamethasone, and have developed many safe and highly effective vaccines in opposition to COVID-19 that are actually in use.
Though we’re studying each day about COVID-19, a number of essential 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 subsequent yr within the face of pure or acquired immunity via vaccination?
A second, much less tutorial level can be whether or not that is essential. 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 obtainable proof suggests it’s minimal at greatest and that our present vaccine platforms are sturdy sufficient to resist any modifications if wanted.
We should additionally stay alert to the possibility of SARS-CoV-2 establishing itself in one other species, such as 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 – typically in a single particular person.
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, akin to influenza and RSV, has been severely restricted.
How will they “react” when mitigation measures, akin to social distancing, finish?
Lastly, we should determine 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 finally 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 return, in the identical approach as has been achieved for swine and avian flu infections.
As I stated in my article a year ago, these epidemics “are a relentless reminder of the necessity to put money into analysis into rising virus biology and evolution, and finally to determine protected 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 fitting monetary and societal assist. How then we are going to apply the teachings of COVID-19 to different severe issues, akin to rising infections, antimicrobial resistance and climate change?